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The Ring of the Nibelung 

Parsifal, Lohengrin, and The Holy Grail 


By kind permission of Messrs. Schott & Co. 




Tristan and Isolde 












First Published in igo5 


THE task of preparing this interpreta- 
tion — in any case a most difficult 
one — has been simplified by the opportune 
publication of the invaluable correspond- 
ence between Richard Wagner and Frau 
Mathilde Wesendonk. At the time of 
writing, an English version has not ap- 
peared, 1 and we have therefore translated, 
with the aid of German friends, some of the 
numerous passages bearing on the Tristan 
drama. This correspondence has created 
an immense stir in Germany, since it clears 
up an important episode in the Masters life 
concerning which little was previously 
known, but much had been imagined or 
invented. The result is that Frau Wesen- 
donk, her husband, and Wagner are 

1 " Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonk. Trans- 
lated, prefaced, etc., by W. Ashton Ellis. London : 
H. Grevel & Co., 1905," has since been published. No 
student of this drama should omit to read it carefully. 


revealed as having acted throughout from 
the highest motives. It was during the 
time that Wagner occupied a cottage on 
the Wesendonks' estate at Zurich that the 
first sketches for the scoring of his Tristan 
poem were made under the elevating 
influence and encouragement of Frau 
Wesendonk ; and it is not too much to 
say that, but for that influence, it would 
never have been given to the world in its 
present form. It was with great pleasure, 
therefore, that we received permission to 
reproduce the beautiful profile that forms 
our frontispiece. The circumstances which 
led to Wagners departure from Zurich are 
related in a letter to his sister from which 
we quote in the Appendix. 

A. L. C. 

B. C. 



Tristan and Isolde : 
i. Introductory 
2. The Drama 

Act I. . 

Act II. . 

Act III. . 

Some Eastern Versions of the Legend 









" The Drama, therefore, proceeds from within outwards, 1 
the Romance from without inwards. From a simple, 
wholly intelligible Surrounding, the dramatist rises to an 
ever richer enfoldment of the Individuality ; from a 
complicated Surrounding — difficult of understanding — the 
Romance-writer sinks exhausted to a delineation of the 
Individual, which, poverty-stricken in itself, could only be 
made individual by that very Surrounding. . . . Thus 
does the Drama unveil to us the Organism of Humanity, 
inasmuch as it shows the Individuality as the essence 
of the Species ; whereas the Romance represents the 
mechanism of History, according to which the Species 
becomes the essence of the Individuality. . . . The 
Drama, then, builds by necessity from within, the 
Romance by compulsion from without." — Prose Works, 
vol. ii. " Opera and Drama," Part ii. (1851). 

1 Wagner has shown that this is the root-idea of Tristan (see 
post, p. 12). 


r I A HE Tristan drama was written 
1 when the musical composition of 
the Ring trilogy had reached the middle 
of Second Act of Siegfried, which Wagner 
had laid aside in the Spring of 1857, 
because at that time there was no hope 
of securing the performance in existing 
theatres of a Music-Drama of ^schylean 
proportions, requiring " three Days and 
a Fore-evening." Consequently he set 
himself to write a work of such dimensions 
as might stand some chance of being per- iX 
formed at once. His one comedy, The 
Mastersingers of Nuremberg y was also the 
offspring of these practical difficulties, and 
was originally sketched as a satiric pendant 
to Tannhauser in 1844. We shall there- 
fore treat it, together with that work, in 
our next volume. 1 

1 " Tannhauser and The Mastersingers of Nuremberg," 
Vol. IV. of this series. 



These two works were completed and 
performed, under King Ludwig's patron- 
ss age, at Munich — Tristan in 1865 and 
The Mastersingers of Nuremberg in 
1868 — but the Ring trilogy had to wait 
until the Bayreuth Festival - Playhouse 
was built, in 1876. 

s/ Although the Tristan drama was de- 
signed, as to its form and dimensions, to 
fit the requirements of conventional oper- 
atic routine, it is wholly characteristic of 
its creator's absolute and unflinching sin- 
cerity and earnestness that there are no 
concessions whatever to popular taste in 
the drama itself. Jsjt is tragedy through 
and through, with nothing but the almost 
unearthly beauty of the marvellous music 
to mitigate the strain upon the hearer. 

In his treatment of this primeval love- 
story Wagner has had to suffer from the 
manner in which other Western poets — 
who were neither dramatists nor true 
mystics — have dealt with it. Let it be 
understood, therefore, at the outset, that 
his poem is similar only in name and 
certain details. Other writers have already 
fully compared the various Western ver- 
sions and accounts with Wagner's, and 


their work serves to show quite clearly 
that he has proceeded on entirely different 
lines, which cannot be thoroughly under- 
stood without some knowledge of Persian 
and Oriental philosophy and symbolism 1 
(see post, p. 123). 
/ Wagner reduces the story to the 
simplest details, entirely discarding the 
unessential and objectionable adventures 
with which the Western versions abound. 
Maurice Kufferath (Director of the 
Theatre de la Monnaie at Brussels), to 
whom we owe one of the most scholarly 
and sympathetic studies that has appeared 
on this drama, remarks that " The present 
value to us of these diverse versions is 
that they throw into greater relief the 
poetic art of Wagner, who follows none of 
these contradictory tales implicitly, but 
gathers from each the most striking 
features. These he groups, condenses, 
and weaves into so logical and coherent a 
whole, that it forms, in fact, a new version, 
the true heart of the legend ; a version so 

1 We have already referred in a previous Volume (II.) 
of this series, entitled " Parsifal, Lohengrin, and The 
Legend of the Holy Grail" (pp. 180, 181), to the extra- 
ordinary scope of Wagner's studies in Eastern as well as 
Western literature and mythology. 


innately right, so natural and so human 
that we seem to rediscover in it the 
original, primitive tradition." x 

It is in this respect, therefore, that 
Wagner soars far above his contem- 
poraries, not only in purity of purpose, 
but also in power of selection and sheer 
constructive skill, poetic and dramatic. 
As with all his works, it is a fundamental 

/Ethical aim which has determined the main 
features of his dramatic poem. And here 
we desire to emphasise the falseness of the 
view which, in the face of all that Wagner 
has written to the contrary, obstinately 
persists in taking his Art apart from his 
Ethics ; simply because the beauty of the 
vehicle is admired, but the truths thereby 
conveyed are distasteful, or misunderstood. 

s/ From the inception of The Flying 
Dutchman we find Wagner continually 
occupied with the problems of life, and 
treating his Art -Works as a means of 
helping his fellow - men to solve those 
problems. In this he falls into line with 
all the truly great men the world has ever 
known ; and in our interpretation of the 

1 Le Theatre de R. Wagner {de Tannhaeuser d Parsi- 
fal). Tristan et I seult. Third Edition. Brussels, 1894. 


Ring drama we have shown the close 
relation between Wagner and ^schylus 
in this respect. 1 The fact is too often 
lost sight of, that Wagners genius was 
essentially classic and mythic. It was/ 
modern only in the form of his music and 
the setting of the play itself. In the 
happy phrase of Mr. Tighe Hopkins 
when reviewing our Ring book, he was 
"an ancient Greek revisiting the glimpses 
of the moon in modern Germany." 

It is in the idea of a longing for Death 
associated with Love, that Wagner makes 
his most definite departure from other 
Western versions and clearly indicates his 
sympathy with Eastern thought. This 
idea, commonly attributed to Schopen- 
hauer's influence, appears in Wagner's 
writings long before he had even so much 
as heard of Schopenhauer, who was, in 
fact, first discovered by an Englishman. 
Thus, at the time of writing Tannhduser 
he tells us that his revolt against modern 
Life and modern Art took the form of "a 
yearning for appeasement in a higher, 
nobler element ; an element which, in its 

1 See " The Ring of the Nibelung : An Interpretation." 
Second Edition, p. 9 et seq. 


/ contrast to the sensual pleasures alone 
immediately recognisable in the modern 
Life and modern Art which surrounded 
me on all sides, could but appear to me in 
the guise of a pure, chaste, virginal, un- 
approachable and unreachable element of 
Love. What, in fine, could this love- 
yearning, the noblest thing my heart could 
feel — what other could it be than a longing 
for release from the Present, for absorp- 
tion into an element of infinite Love, a 
love not to be found on earth and reach- 
able through the gates of Death alone ? " 
{Prose Works, vol. i. pp. 322, 323). 

In these words the central theme of the 
Tristan drama is described with unmis- 
takable clearness ; and again, towards the 
close of 1854, after his first reading of 
Schopenhauer's "The World as Will and 
Idea," he writes to Liszt : " His chief 
idea, the final negation of the desire of life, 
is terribly serious, but it shows the only 
salvation possible. To me of course that 
thought was not new, and, indeed it can 
be conceived by no one for whom it did not 
pre-exist ; but this philosopher was the first 
to place it clearly before me" ("Wagner- 
Liszt Correspondence," vol. ii. p. 53). 


Students of Wagner's Prose Works ^ 
will be aware how frequently the main 
ideas of his dramas are thus foreshadowed 
in essays written many years earlier. 
Further light is thrown on this interesting 
point in a letter written to Frau Wesen- 
donk, from Venice, in January 1859, 1 
when he was scoring the Second Act of 
Tristan. After describing the peculiarity 
of the poet's intuition in grasping before- 
hand what is only learnt by others 
through experience, he goes on to say : 
" It will then be the greatest marvel when 
this essential something which has been 
perceived beforehand, at length begins to 
form a part of his own experience. This 
Idea will then play an important part in 
the form of this experience ; the purer and 
more elevated this Idea has been, so much 
the more unworldly and incomparable that 
experience will be. It will purify his will, 
his aesthetic interest will become a moral 
one, and the highest moral consciousness 
will be added to the highest poetical Idea. 
Then it will become his task to realise it 

1 Richard Wagner an Mathilde Wesendonk^ Tagebuch- 
blatter und Brief e, 1 853-1 871. Berlin, 1904. (See post, 
p. 135 etseq.) 


in the moral world ; he will thereby be led 
by the same intuition which, as a percep- 
tion of the aesthetic Idea, prompted him to 
represent this Idea in a work of art, and 
fitted him for the experience. . . . 

" I always used to be so much in 
advance of my experiences in my poetical 
conceptions that I must consider my moral 
development to have been brought about 
and determined by these conceptions. 
The Flying Dutchman, Tannhauser, 
Lohengrin, Nibelungen, Wodan, 1 were all 
of them in my brain before they were in 
my experience. Perhaps you can feel for 
yourself in what a wonderful relation I 
now stand to Tristan. I say openly — 
because it is a fact that does not belong to 
the world, but to the consecrated spirit — 
that never did an Idea become so definitely 
an experience. How far both predestined 
themselves mutually constitutes such a 
delicate and wonderful relation that from 
the ordinary standpoint it is sure to be 
hopelessly misunderstood." 

The mutual predestination of which 

1 This was the original spelling. Wotan was at first 
a separate figure in Wagner's mind, apart from the 
Nibelungen. See his essay " The Wibelungen : World- 
History as told in Saga," Prose Works, vol. vii. 


Wagner here speaks will be better under- 
stood, if w«> ^mJH fV><a rf>or]f>y that at 

thi s period he was deeply interested in 
Budd hism (s ee post, p. 135), especially 
the doctrines of Reincarnation and Karma. 
In the preface to our Interpretation of 
Parsifal and Lohengrin, we give a 
passage from the Wesendonk cor- 
respondence, in which he discusses these 
works in the light of those ideas, and 
suggests that " Elsa, in her reincarnation, 
would rise to the height of Lohengrin." 
So, in Tristan, it is evident that he 
regards the lovers as having predestined 
themselves to their present relation by 
their actions in a previous existence. 
The connection between this drama and 
those of Lohengrin and Parsifal thus 
becomes a profoundly interesting study 
for those who have the time and inclina- 
tion to dive deeply into the wonderful 
mysteries of Wagner's genius. We find 
him telling Liszt, that in order to under- 
stand The Victors (Die Sieger), one of 
the forerunners of Parsifal, he "must 
have first digested Tristan, especially the 
third act " ; and in the Wesendonk cor- 
respondence he says that the sufferings of 


Amfortas in Parsifal, represent "my 
Tristan of the third act with an un- 
imagined working - out " (see post, p. 
1 06). 

Another very interesting connection 
with Lohengrin is revealed in his Essay 
" Zukunftsmusik " (Prose Works, vol. iii. 
PP- 33°> 33 l )y where Wagner describes 
how the fatal power of doubt, which had 
delayed Elsa's evolution, also beset him 
in his own Art-Work ; but, he adds, "all 
doubt forsook me when at last I gave 
myself up to Tristan. Here, in absolute 
faith I plunged into the profoundest depths 
of the soul and fashioned its outward 
semblance from the inmost centre of that 
realm. Life and Death ; the whole mean- 
ing and existence of the outer world, here 
depend entirely on the hidden mysteries 
of the soul. It is the desire of the inmost 
soul itself that brings about the affecting 
action of the drama, and it enters the light 
of Day precisely as it was shaped before- 
hand in that inner shrine.'' 

He then proceeds to give a very im- 
portant explanation concerning the poem 
and its relation to the music, pointing out 
that in his early work, The Flying Dutch- 


man, he designed the verses so that they 
might be stretched to any length demanded 
by the operatic melody, by continued re- 
petition of words and phrases. In Tristan, 
however, there was none of this word- 
repetition to be found, " but the weft of 
words and verses foreordains the whole 
dimensions of the melody, i.e. the 
structure of that melody is already erected 
by the poet " ; and he adds that this 
method imparts to the musical setting a 
wealth and inexhaustibility which could 
otherwise never even be imagined. Every- 
one who has heard this work performed, 
or has even studied the score only, must 
acknowledge the absolute truth of these 

It is not surprising, therefore, that 
Wagner considered it inadvisable to 
publish the Tristan poem by itself. He 
explains, in a letter to Frau Wesendonk, 
how radical is the difference, both in 
arrangement and execution, between a 
poem wholly wedded to music and a 
purely poetical drama. That, if the 
former is considered from the same stand- 
point as the latter, its real significance 
will remain unrevealed until the musical 


language steps in. To the music, he 
explains, can be relegated the expression 
of those numerous details which are 
necessary to render an ideal subject 
seizable by the popular mind, but which 
in the purely poetical drama must be 
expressed in words. Hence, one cannot 
get a fair impression of Wagner's dramatic 
poems by reading them apart from the 
music ; and those who attempt to criticise 
them from that standpoint are doing him 
a great injustice. 

Nevertheless the Tristan poem is ex- 
ceedingly fine, considered by itself. It is 
a mixture of the alliterative Stabreim 
which Wagner found so suitable for his 
Ring of the Nibelung, and end-rhyme. 
We give a typical example — the great 
Death Song in the Second Act, with 
Mr. Alfred Forman's English version : — 

So starben wir, So should we die 

um ungetrennt, that ne'er again 

ewig einig, our souls might suffer 

ohne End', parting's pain, — 

ohn' Erwachen, that unawakened, 

ohne Bangen, unforbidden, 

namenlos for reach of name 

in Lieb' umfangen, too deeply hidden, 

ganz uns selbst gegeben our beings we might 


der Liebe nur zu leben. in love without an end. 


If this passage is examined in the vocal 
score it will be seen how admirably this 
form of verse lends itself to musical treat- 
ment. Another point to notice is that, 
with few exceptions, every syllable has a 
note to itself, thus greatly enhancing the 
distinctness of enunciation which Wagner 
considered of the first importance ; in fact, 
he laid more stress upon making the words 
understandable to the audience than upon 
mere beauty of tone. He was wont to 
get actors to speak the parts to his singers, 
in order to teach them this clearness of 

There are also some interesting refer- 
ences to the music in the Wesendonk 
letters. In describing the method by 
which he endeavoured to convey the 
meaning of so profound a subject as 
Tristan to the average mind, Wagner 
writes : "I now recognise that the 
peculiar tissue of my music — always, of 
course, in the closest connection with 
the poetical design — which my friends 
regard as so novel and important, owes 
its construction to a most delicate sense 
of feeling, prompting me to link together 
the extreme moods [SHmmungen) by 


intimately connecting all the moments of 
the transition between them. 

" My most delicate and profound art I 
would like to call that of Transition 
( Uebergang), since the whole fabric of my 
art consists of these transitions. An 
abrupt or hurried effect has become dis- 
tasteful to me ; it is often necessary and 
inevitable, but even then it ought not to 
occur unless such a careful preparation 
has been made for the sudden transition 
that the mood seems actually to demand 
it. Undoubtedly my greatest achievement 
in the art of the most delicate and gradual 
transition is the grand scene in the second 
act of Tristan und Isolde. The beginning 
of this scene portrays the most intense 
emotions of abounding life, — the end the 
holiest and deepest longing for death. 
These are the pillars ; now see, my child, 
how I have woven a bond that leads from 
one pillar to the other. This, then, is the 
secret of my musical form — a form which, I 
boldly assert, embraces every detail with 
such harmony and clearness of development 
as hitherto has never been conceived." 

In another letter to the same corre- 
spondent occurs a passage peculiarly 


interesting in view of the criticism with 
which the musical score of Tristan was 
greeted on its first appearance. He says : 
"The Tristan is, and remains a marvel 
to me. I am more and more unable to 
understand how I could produce such a 
thing. In perusing it I had to open my 
eyes and ears very wide indeed. How 
terribly I shall have to suffer for this work 
some day, when I have it performed in its 
entirety. I can clearly foresee an unheard- 
of suffering, for I must not conceal from 
myself the fact that I have greatly exceeded 
the limits of our theatrical regime. Per- 
formers so wonderfully gifted as to be equal 
to the task are very rarely born " (see 
post, p. 142). 

Wagner's meaning here is evidently 
two-fold. We have seen from his other 
references to the drama how intimate and 
sacred it was to him ; and we can well 
understand how intensely painful to him 
must have been an ordinary performance 
in a conventional theatre. It is curious, 
too, that just as he was haunted by a 
dread of not being able to finish Tann- 
hduser, so in these intimate letters he 
writes : "I notice a fatalistic opposition 


against the finishing of Tristan, but that 
cannot force me to work at it more 
hurriedly. On the contrary, I work at it 
as though I had nothing more to do for 
the rest of my life. The result is that it 
grows more beautiful than anything I have 
done before ; the smallest phrase has for 
me the significance of a whole act, such is 
the care with which I execute it." 

Wagner was always a remarkably just 
and impartial judge of his own work, and 
his estimate of Tristan is fully endorsed 
by the most competent authorities of the 
present day. It is undoubtedly, in some 
respects, the most perfect flower of his 
unique genius. 

Now it will have been gathered from 
the foregoing extracts from the Master's 
writings, that in this particular work the 
music carries so much of the inner mean- 
ing that it is necessary to examine it 
somewhat fully. As the present volume 
is devoted to but one Work of moderate 
dimensions, we are fortunately enabled to 
do this. Moreover, in checking the 
existing " Musical Guides" by the 
orchestral score, we have found that none 
of them are complete, or in entire 


agreement with Wagner's own writings. 
In attempting a fuller analysis we are 
only too conscious that a much larger 
volume than this would be necessary to do 
the work thoroughly ; we have therefore 
had to be content with a brief reference to 
the more important instances where the 
orchestral web of motives illuminates the 
dramatic poem. 

We are aware that there are earnest 
Wagnerians who deprecate any attempt 
at analysis or interpretation, 1 especially 
what they call "the arbitrary labelling of 
motives" which, they assert, was dis- 
approved of by Wagner himself. But we 
have already shown in our two previous 
volumes — and we do so again in the 
present one — that the Master himself not 
infrequently quotes specific motives in his 
writings ; and even goes so far as to label 
some of them, e.g. the Warning motive in 
Lohengrin. No doubt there are excep- 
tionally gifted people who are capable of 
the complex mental feat of understanding 
such a work as Tristan by witnessing one 
or two performances ; but for the great 

1 See post, p. 124, for the poet J£mi's Interpretation of 
his " Salaman and Absal." 


majority a preliminary study of a reason- 
ably accurate dramatic and musical in- 
terpretation is of the greatest assistance. 
If this fact had not been borne in upon us 
very strongly we certainly should not have 
undertaken the not inconsiderable labour 
involved in preparing these brief but 
extremely condensed studies. 

A striking confirmation of our own 
experience is given by Professor Lavignac, 
in his valuable treatise on Wagners 
Music-Dramas. 1 He describes how he 
went to a Bayreuth festival having made 
a careful study of Parsifal, knowing The 
Mastersingers of Nuremberg fairly well, 
but entirely ignorant of Tristan and Isolde. 
The result was that, whereas the perform- 
ances of Parsifal were to him "two days 
of the most pure and never-to-be-forgotten 
happiness," and he was able to appreciate 
all the humour and pathos of Wagners 
only comedy ; of Tristan he understood 
"nothing at all, nothing, absolutely 
nothing. It takes a certain amount of 

lu The Music-Dramas of Richard Wagner and his 
Festival Theatre in Bayreuth." By Albert Lavignac, 
Professor of Harmony at the Conservatoire of Paris. 
Trans, from the French by Esther Singleton. London, 


courage to confess these things/' he adds, 
" especially when one has subsequently 
succeeded in penetrating the innumerable 
beauties of Tristan and Isolde ; but I wish 
my sad example to be of service to others, 
and therefore it is necessary to relate it" 

(PP- 73> .74). 

Permission to cite the various musical 

motives has been kindly given by Messrs. 
Breitkopf and Haertel, owners of the copy- 
right. We are also indebted to certain 
translations by Mr. W. Ashton Ellis, and 
English versions of the poem by Messrs. 
Alfred Forman and Frederick Jameson. 

The following abbreviations have been 
used to indicate the instrumentation : Vis. 
(Violins), Fl. (Flutes), B. (Bassoons), Ob. 
(Oboes), CI. (Clarinets), Cb. (Contrabassi), 
Celli. (Violoncelli), Eng.H. (English 
Horn), Tpts. (Trumpets), Tromb. (Trom- 









" The life of man is evolution in egoism and putting- 
off thereof again in favour of the generality. 

" Until maturity, man comprehends Nature only with 
reference to himself: every impression from Nature 
goes up into his egoism, for the still-ripening merely 
receives ; only the received is comprehensible to him, 
and only as regards himself, his Me itself; so far as 
Nature lies outside him, it therefore is nothing to him, 
and only his I is something. But when man divests 
himself of self again in love, after attained maturity, then 
only does Nature become aught to him, in measure as 
he sinks himself into her ; for through love he goes 
outside himself and finds himself again in his antithesis. 
Whence also the understanding of Nature first through 
love." 1 — Prose Works^ vol. viii., " Jesus of Nazareth." 

i Cf. Tristan, Act \l\.—In des Welt-Athems wehendem All 
[rendered by Mr. Jameson as: — "In the moving wave of the 
whole world's breath " — ]. 

Parsifal, Act III. — Sieti, es lacht die Aue ! [" — Lo ! how laughs 
the field," in Mr. Alfred Forman's translation]. 



AMONG the many versions of the 
birth and parentage of Tristan, the 
hero of Wagner's drama, that one which 
makes him the son of Blanchefleur of 
Cornwall — the sister of King Marke — and 
the Breton knight, Rivalin, is the most 
generally accepted. Like Siegfried and 
other mythical heroes, his father is killed 
in battle, and his mother survives only 
long enough to bring him into the world. 1 
Thus it is that he receives a name which 
designates him as the child of sorrow, for 
though the name Tristan has many deriva- 
tions, Wagner uses it in its old French 

Reared at his father's castle in Kar^ol 
(Brittany) by a faithful seneschal, he 
becomes — under his preceptor, Kurwenal — 
famous for his personal fascination, great 

1 See Vol. I. of this series — " The Ring of the Nibelung : 
An Interpretation," p. 85. 



strength and courage, and his skill in 
minstrelsy. When he has come to man's 
estate he is kidnapped by a Norwegian 
ship which is eventually wrecked on the 
coast of Cornwall, close to King Marke's 
castle of Tintagel ; and thus, in the guise 
of a shipwrecked stranger, he comes to his 
uncle's court. Although at first unaware 
of their relationship, the King conceives 
a great affection for the unknown minstrel, 
whose skill excites the admiration of all. 
Later, so runs the legend, he is recog- 
nised as the nephew of King Marke 
and is proclaimed by him as his heir in 

Now the country had long lain under the 
obligation of paying tribute to Ireland, 
collected every year by Morold, champion 
of that country, who was so renowned for 
his strength and prowess that no Cornish 
Knight had dared to accept the alternative 
of mortal combat which he scornfully 
offered. Tristan, however, stung by his 
insults, refused the tribute and offered to 
meet the Irish champion. The combat, 
reluctantly consented to by King Marke, 
is said to have taken place on the island 
of St. Sanson — one of the Scilly group — 


and was long and terrible. In the end 
Tristan succeeded in slaying Morold by so 
violent a sword-cut on the head that a 
fragment of the weapon was left in his 
adversary's skull. 

In pride and derision he sends the head 
to Ireland as " tribute " ; but he has 
himself received a grievous wound, inflicted 
by Morold's poisoned sword. In the 
sufferings which he endures, which none 
can assuage, he recalls the words of 
Morold, who had told him of the healing 
balms prepared by Isolde, Princess of 
Ireland, 1 renowned for her skill in that art. 
But as slayer of Morold his life would be 
forfeit were he to seek healing at her 
hands as Tristan of Cornwall, nephew of 
King Marke ; so disguising himself as a 
minstrel, he goes alone in a small boat to 
Dublin, with nothing but his harp and his 
sword. Reversing the syllables of his 
name he announces himself as Tantris and 
captivates everyone with the sweetness 
of his minstrelsy, as he had done at 

*A village near Dublin is known as Chapelizod to 
this day, and one of the towers on the old city wall in 
Dublin is called Isolde's Tower (see Gilbert's " History 
of Dublin," vol. ii.). There is also a house in Kilkenny 
called Chapelizod after the Izod family who reside there. 


Tintagel. Princess Isolde, who had been 
trained in the arts of healing and of magic 
by her mother, undertakes to heal the 
minstrel's wound. But in the head of 
Morold, sent by Tristan as "tribute" from 
Cornwall, Isolde had found a fragment of 
steel which, now divining the truth, she 
instantly fits in a gap which she discovers 
in the stranger's sword. Enraged, she 
raises the weapon to avenge the Irish 
Champion's death ; but the sick man 
silently looks into her eyes, and the sword 
falls harmless to the ground. 

This fateful Look is the point from which 
the whole of Wagner's drama evolves ; and 
is distinctively his own invention, being 
found in none of the other versions of the 
legend. It reveals to the finer perceptions 
of Isolde that they are mutually predestined 
for one another, as Wagner points out in 
a letter already quoted (see ante, p. 10). 
It is something infinitely deeper and more 
significant than what is commonly known 
as "love at first sight." It indicates 
an identity of soul, the meaning of which 
becomes clearer as the drama unfolds 
itself. In that moment Isolde knows that 
her fate is bound up with that of Tristan ; 


but she also knows that he is, as yet, 
unconscious for his part of the secret she 
has read in his eyes. 1 In silence she 
heals his wound ; in silence and safety 
he departs for Cornwall. Still blind to 
the mysterious relation he bears to Isolde, 
he loudly extols her charms to his uncle, 
and will not rest content until the good 
old King permits him to return to Ireland 2 
with a fitting escort to bring her back to 
be his Queen. 

The action of Wagner's drama opens 
while Tristan is bringing Isolde to Corn- 
wall. Concerning the instrumental pre- 
lude the Master writes as follows to Frau 
Wesendonk from Paris, in January i860 : 
11 All that I have gone through means 
nothing compared with the discovery 
which I made in the orchestral rehearsal 
of my concert. It has determined the 

1 " Sight, sight," says Wagner, " real sight is what all 
lack." See Appendix, p. 141, for what he says concerning 
the power of trained " sight n for piercing the outward 
appearance of things and perceiving the inner soul. 

2 It is during this second visit that, according to one 
version of the story, Tristan succeeds in slaying a dragon 
that had long devastated the land. This incident is not 
touched upon by Wagner, but is of interest as another 
point of similarity with Siegfried (see " The Ring of the 
Nibelung : An Interpretation," p. 85). 


entire remainder of my life, and its 
consequences will now wholly dominate 
me. I had the Prelude of Tristan 
played for the first time, — it was as if 
scales had fallen from my eyes, and 
revealed to me how great is the gulf which 
the last eight years have caused me to 
place between the world and myself. 
This little prelude was so incompre- 
hensibly new to the musicians that I had 
straightway to lead my people from note 
to note, as to the discovery of hidden 
precious stones. Billow, who was present, 
confessed to me that the performance of 
this piece, which had been tried in 
Germany, had only been received by the 
public in good faith, but had remained 
wholly incomprehensible to them. I 
succeeded in making this prelude in- 
telligible alike to the orchestra and to 
the public, indeed I am sure that the 
deepest impression has been made ; but 
do not ask me how that was achieved. 
Suffice it that it is now very clear to me 
that I must not think of creating anything 
further before I have filled up the big 
chasm behind me." 

The Prelude opens with a remarkable 



phrase which is really a combination of 
the two most important motives in the 
drama, The first, grief-laden and resigned, 
is peculiarly expressive of the nature of 
Tristan : — 

Sorrow motive. 

The second motive is thus referred to 
by Wagner in a letter to Frau Wesen- 
donk, written from Paris in March i860: 
" Everything is foreign to me, and I often 
turn with longing towards the land of 
Nirvana. But Nirvana quickly changes 
into Tristan. You know the Buddhist 
Cosmogony. A mist veils the clearness 
of heaven. [He then writes in the follow- 
ing motive] : — 




It swells and grows denser, until at length 
the whole world stands again before me 
in an impenetrable compactness/ 7 

Now in the course of the drama we 


shall find that this simple chromatic 
sequence occurs every time the magical 
knowledge of either Isolde or her mother is 
mentioned (see post, p. 49, "O tamed Art 
of the Sorceress " — O zahme Kunst 
der Zauberin). It also occurs in the 
beginning of the Second Act when Isolde 
speaks of Frau Minne as "The Queen 
with heart of matchless height, who brings 
by will the worlds to light." l 

The conclusion is therefore unavoidable, 
and it is most important to make it clear 
at this stage of our study, that Wagner 
proceeds on higher lines than the romantic 
poets to whom we have already referred. 
In his hands Tristan and Isolde becomes 
something infinitely wider than a story of 
personal human love, although that lesser 
force is contained within the greater. He 
shows us beyond mistake that in this 
motive he intends in the larger sense to 
convey the abstract idea of the Will which 
brings the universe into being. In the 
individual it manifests as human love ; 
and the greatness of Wagner's work 

1 This is Mr. Alfred Forman's admirable rendering 
of: Des kiihnsten Muthes Kbnigin des We I ten- Wer dens 
Walterin . . . 


consists in his demonstration of the higher 
aspect of human love as leading upward 
to the divine (see post, p. 88). Therefore 
the "magic" of Isolde and her mother is 
something very different from what is 
commonly understood by that term. 1 

This second motive, then, may be 
looked upon as being especially connected 
with the nature of Isolde; and, in com- 
bination with the first, expresses at the 
very outset the essential characteristics 
of the hero and heroine. 

Isolde's Magic. 
Oboes. ~~*s — v 

Tristan's Sorrow. 

1 In a learned work entitled Histoire de la Magie^ by 
P. Christian, Ancien Bibliothe'caire au Ministre de 
V Instruction Publique et des Cultes (Paris 1840), we find 
the following : " Magic, or rather Magisme, if we will 
take the trouble to trace it back to its most ancient 
source, can no longer be confused with the superstitions 
which mar its dignity. . . . Magic derives its name from 
the Chaldean word Maghdim, which means wisdom, 
and includes that which we understand by the term 
philosophy." We may remind the reader that many 
of the princesses of olden times had the custody of 
higher knowledge of this nature. Such a one Isolde 
undoubtedly was, and is so treated by Wagner in this 


A second pair of motives represent 
Tristan as Hero, and the fateful Look 
which he cast upon Isolde when she raised 
the sword to kill him. 

Hero motive. 

Vis. V 




Look motive. 

The meaning of the Look motive will 
become clearer in the course of the First 
Act ; meanwhile it is firmly impressed on 
the memory by continued repetition 
throughout the Prelude. Closely allied 
to it are the motives of the Love-Potion 
and the Death-Potion (see post, p. 59). 
Both are characterised by the descending 
interval of a seventh, the first being a 
major seventh in the treble and the latter 
a minor seventh in the bass. This 
similarity is due to the close association 
of Love and Death in this drama which 
has been already referred to (see ante, 
P- 7). 



Curiously enough, neither Von Biilow 
nor Kleinmichel seem to have recognised 
this motive in the Prelude ; for in their 
pianoforte arrangements they both treat 
it as though it were merely a bass 
harmony ; thus : — 

Celli. Love-Potion. 






F W 






B., Bel., Ck 

Correct form in 
Orchestral Score. 



-=1— =4- 




B., Bel., Cb. 


It will be observed that the motive 
has been divided by tying the first 
note (B) to FS in the previous bar, 
and accenting the middle Dt}, while the 
third note (DS) is only given as a 
minim ; whereas in the full score as 
shown beneath it, the D# is sustained 
throughout the bar by the three bassoons 
and bass clarionet, the contrabassi only 


ceasing on the first beat of the bar. It 
is a remarkable illustration of what 
may be missed in Wagner's scores, even 
by musicians of the highest technical 
skill, when they are studied purely from 
the musical standpoint. Moreover, Hans 
Von Wolzogen, who calls it the "Fate 
motive," in pointing out its resemblance 
to the Look motive, speaks of it as first 
occurring in Act i. Scene iv., although it 
is sounded very distinctly no less than 
four times in the early part of the 

When Wagner was in Paris in January 
i860 he desired very much, as we have 
seen (see ante, p. 31), to hear the effect 
of this Prelude on the orchestra, and 
therefore he wrote it out with the 
arrangement of Isolde's Liebestod which 
closes the drama, now so familiar to all 
concert-goers. In sending a copy to Frau 
Wesendonk he writes: "You know Hans 
[Von Billow] wished to perform the 
Prelude to Tristan last winter, and asked 
me to write a conclusion for it. Then I 
could think of nothing ; it seemed so im- 
possible to me that I at once declined. 
Since then, I have written the third act, 


and I have found a complete conclusion 
of the whole. ... I send you this 
mysterious pacifying conclusion for a 
birthday present, as the best thing which 
I can give you. . . . You will understand 
better what I have written for my Parisian 
public as an explanation of the whole 

We here give the concluding words 
of this ' ' explanation" : "it is the bliss 
of quitting life, of being -no -more, of 
last redemption into that wondrous 
realm from which we wander farthest 
when we strive to enter it by fiercest 
force. Shall we call it Death ? Or is 
it not Nights wonder- world, whence — 
as the story says — an ivy and a vine 
sprang up in close embrace o'er Tristan 
and Isolde's grave!" {Prose Works, vol. 
viii., " Sketches and Fragments." See 
also post, p. 147 and cover design). 

11 You will recognise again, in the music," 
continues Wagner in his letter to Frau 
Wesendonk, "ivy and vine branches, 
when you hear it played by the orchestra, 
where string and wind instruments are 
heard alternately." The following is the 
passage referred to, and will be seen 



to be a development of the Look 
motive : — 


Violas, Celli. 

Ob.,Cl., Eng.H. 

These figures alternating with the 
Look motive and the recurrence of the 
Death-Potion in the bass lead up to the 
strenuous figure of the Longing for 
Death : — 


Violas, Celli, Cb. 

The motives of Tristan's Sorrow and 
Isolde's Magic reappear in combination 
with this, and then the Look motive, 
which is carried forward with magnificent 
effect upon a stream of sound ; the whole 
culminating in a tremendous climax which 
produces an harmonic effect greatly admired 
as such by musicians. Yet when we come 



to look into it, it is found to be a perfectly 
natural combination of the three motives 
just mentioned : — 

Isolde's Magic 

Look motive. 






Isolde's Magic. 
2 Trumpets. 

Tristan's Sorrow. 

Fl., Ob., Bel., Eng.H., Violas, Celli. 

This climax is described by Wagner 
as expressing "the most resolute attempt 
to find the breach unbarring to the heart 
a path into the sea of the eternal bliss 
of love." But the effort is vain, and the 
Prelude dies away in tender repetitions 



of some of the motives already heard. 
As the curtain rises on the First Act the 
following bass figure is sounded, which 
afterwards is associated with Morold (see 
post, pp. 58, 62) :— 




-?— ft* 


& Celli, Cb. 







"With the sketch of c Tristan and Isolde' I felt that I 
was not really leaving the circle of the poetical and 
mythical ideas which my Nibelungen work had opened 
out to me. . . . For the grand concordance of all sterling 
Myths as revealed to me by my studies, had sharpened 
my eyesight for the wondrous variations which appeared 
in this discovered link. Such a one confronted me with 
fascinating clearness in Tristan's relation to Isolde, as 
compared with Siegfried's to Bninnhilde. . . . Their 
complete similarity consists in this : both Tristan and 
Siegfried, in bondage to an illusion which makes this 
deed of theirs unfree, woo for another their own eternally 
predestined bride, and in the false relation hence arising 
find their doom. . . . What in the one work could only 
be expressed with decisive violence, in the other becomes 
a Content of infinite variety ; and this it was that 
attracted me to treat the subject, at just this time ; 
namely, as a supplementary Act of the great Nibelungen- 
myth, a mythos compassing the whole relations of a 
world." — Prose Works, vol. iii., "Epilogue to the 
'Nibelung's Ring.'" 




THE action of the drama opens on 
board the ship in which Tristan is 
bringing Isolde from Ireland to Cornwall 
as bride-elect of King Marke. She is 
seen, in a curtained-off space on the deck, 
reclining on a couch in an attitude of 
deep dejection, her waiting-woman, Bran- 
gane, in attendance. The voice of a 
young sailor is heard aloft, reminding us 
of the Steersman in The Flying Dutch- 
man : " Westward sweeps the eye ; 
Eastward glides the ship. Fresh blows 
the wind on homeward way ; My Irish 
maid, where dost thou stay ? " Part of 
his song is afterwards used as the Sea 
motive — 


gz i ^JgJ^J g. 

Fresh blows the wind on homeward way. 


The Look motive gives us the key to 
Isoldes mood, as she starts up with the 
angry cry: "Who dares to mock me?" 
For since that Look in Tristan's eyes 
revealed to her their common destiny, he 
has sought to condemn her to a living 
death in an alliance with his uncle. The 
motive expressive of her wrath and deep 
agitation is derived from that of Tristans 
Sorrow : — 

Vis., Violas, Celli, Cb, 

To the accompaniment of the Sea 
motive Brangane tells her that by even- 
ing they will reach the shores of Corn- 
wall ; but Isolde declares that that 
shall never be ; and a portion of the 
Death-Potion motive reveals her real 
resolve. It is followed by a new form 
of the Sea motive as she cries : " De- 
generate race, unworthy your fathers ! 
Oh, mother, to whom hast thou given 
the power to rule the sea and the 
storm ? " Then we hear the motive 


of Isolde's Magic 1 as she continues: 
"O tamed art of the sorceress, that 
now but healing draughts can brew." 
It is the power of the Will, indicated 
by this motive (see ante, p. 34), 
which she now invokes to lash the 
sea into fury and wreck the ship with 
all on board : " Hear my will, ye craven 
winds ! " 

But no response comes to her frenzied 
appeal. She calls for air, and Brangane 
hastily parting the curtains which close 
them in, reveals Tristan at the helm, 
surrounded by his retinue. In the fore- 
ground is the crew, and from aloft the 
voice of the young sailor is again heard. 
Isolde, instantly fixing her eyes on Tris- 
tan, murmurs gloomily to herself in the 
tones of her Magic motive : " Chosen for 
me, — lost to me, — great and good, brave 
and coward — ; Death - devoted Head ! 
Death-devoted Heart ! " The motive 
of Tristan's Sorrow is introduced with 
beautiful effect by the English horn, and 

1 The connection in which this motive occurs, both here 
and subsequently, proves that it is distinctly misleading 
to label it "desire," or "yearning" — as is frequently 



the following motive appears at the 
mention of Death : — 

Death motive. 

|p EE^=~^ g^gfc 




de - - vot - - ed 



3 P- 







Eng.H., Ob., CI., Bel. 

Tpts., Tromb., Drums. 




^W^ 3 ^ 3 



Death - de - vot - ed Heart ! 

zzs^a L B 


Si 3 ^^ 








giit * 

At the word "Head" Isolde faintly in- 
dicates, by her gesture, Tristan ; at the 


word "Heart" herself. 1 In the Second 
Act the meaning of this action becomes 
clearer in its relation to the general 
scheme of symbolism which Wagner has 
embodied in this drama. The Hero 
motive of Tristan is linked to the Look 
motive (see ante, p. 36), as Isolde asks 
Brangane what she thinks of "the hench- 
man — that hero," who keeps his "look" 
from hers. 

Let us pause here for a moment to 
consider the present state of the inner 
relation between Tristan and Isolde. 
For this is preeminently an introspective 
work, dealing entirely with the mysteries 
of human personality. And such of these 
mysteries as cannot be expressed in words 
are conveyed by the wonderful orchestral 
web of motives — a musical language of 
such clearness as had never been dreamt 
of before Wagner began his marvellous 

Tristan is represented as the intellectual 
element, partially blinded by the illusion 

1 See " Parsifal, Lohengrin, and The Legend of the 
Holy Grail," pp. 170, 171, where we quote a remarkable use 
of this symbolism on the part of Liszt, in reference to the 
Lohengrin drama. 


of the outer world of Day ; and Isolde 
as the intuitional element which is of 
the inner world of Night ; and it will be 
seen that the whole of the Second Act 
is concerned with this contrast. In the 
quotation from the Prose Works which 
faces this Act, Wagner makes the ex- 
tremely profound remark that Tristan 
and Siegfried alike fall victims to this 
fatal "illusion" of the material world: 
That, blinded thereby, they do a terrible 
wrong, involving suffering and death; 
they "woo for another their own eter- 
nally predestined bride, and in the false 
relation hence arising they find their 
doom." In Tristan this blindness takes 
the form of a feeling that his uncle is 
more worthy than he of so rare a nature 
as Isolde. But now that the wrong is 
done, now that, in Isolde's words to 
Brangane, he has " won a bride as corpse 
for his lord," the power of that ancient 
destiny which binds his own soul to hers 
is becoming so strong that he dare not 
even turn his gaze towards her. 

To Isolde, with her inner knowledge, the 
position is insupportable. She is being 
dragged into a "purely political marriage" 


— to use Wagner's description — by the 
man whose soul has declared itself to be 
in unison with her own. It amounts to 
what the ancients called "a profanation 
of the Mysteries/' and the penalty must 
be death. Before she bade farewell to 
Ireland her resolve had been formed, and 
now, as they approach the shores of 
Cornwall, she is preparing to put it into 
execution. Brangane is charged to de- 
liver a brief and peremptory summons, 
which is couched in tones similar to the 
Death motive, commanding Tristan's 
attendance — 









Be - feh-len Hess' dem Ei-gen-hol-de Furcht der Herrin ich, I- sol - de ! 

To the modern mind it might seem 
strange that so proud a nature as Isolde's 
should tamely submit to so great a pro- 
fanation. The outer reason is to be 
found in the custom of the times, when 
it was quite a recognised usage for 
such a marriage to be arranged in order 
to seal a treaty of peace between two 
countries ; but it is the inner reason 


which is here by far the more important 
to consider. 

Isolde, as we have seen, stands for the 
feminine principle of Intuition, which in 
the material world is a passive force, as 
opposed to the active (masculine) force of 
Intellect; but the more we recede from 
the material world and its influences the 
more active does this feminine principle 
in us become. Thus Wagner tells us that 
the intellectual theories which he formed 
were continually overthrown by his artistic 
intuition. In other words, the state of 
consciousness into which he entered when 
at work on his Art was so high that 
Intuition was the prevailing force. 1 It is, 
therefore, quite natural for Isolde to be 
silent and unresisting during this worldly 
traffic ; but we now find her beginning to 
direct the course of events in such a 
manner as to bring Tristan nearer to her 
sphere of influence, and eventually to open 
his eyes to his true destiny. 

As Brangane advances to deliver her 
message the Sea motive merges into the 
energetic motive of Kurwenal, Tristan's 

1 See " The Ring of the Nibelung : An Interpretation," 
pp. 127, 128. 



faithful henchman, who warns his master 
of a message from Isolde. 






To Brangane's timid words, that Isolde 
would have speech with him, Tristan 
replies evasively that he stands ever ready 
to serve her ; but were he to leave the 
helm, how could the ship be guided safely 
to the land of King Marke ? Seeing this 
Brangane takes courage and repeats, tone 
for tone, Isolde's command, which stings 
Kurwenal to boastful and insulting words 
concerning the death of Morold and the 
sending of his head as " tribute " to Ireland. 
His last words are sung to a new motive 
of considerable importance, especially ex- 
pressive of Tristan as the Hero surrounded 
by the glory of the material world ; for 
later on, in the Second Act, we shall see 
how, by a very simple change, it becomes 


the motive of Day (the world of Illusion. 
Set post, p. 79) : — 

Worldly Fame. 


1- T 


Hail to our lord Tris-tan ! 

Day motive. 1 


The ship's crew take up this refrain, as 
Brangane retreats in dismay, and closes 
the curtains behind her, and we hear the 
descending chromatic sequence of Tristan's 
Sorrow motive while she delivers her reply 
to her royal mistress. But Isolde knows 
all ; and, to the continual accompaniment 
of that motive — now definitely representa- 
tive of the Wounded Tristan — she recounts 
bitterly to Brangane the story of his secret 
voyage to Ireland, to seek healing at her 
hands : — 



A sick and help - less man there lay. 

x See Act 11. p. 71. 


At the words : " Isolde's art was known 
to him," the motive of her Magic reappears, 
followed by that of the Wounded Tristan, 
which abruptly changes into his Worldly- 
Fame motive — just heard in the refrain 
of Kurwenal's insulting song — as Isolde 
goes on to tell how the wounded minstrel 
" Tantris " was revealed to her as Tristan : 
" From where he rested rose his Look, — 
not on the sword, not on my hand, he 
looked into my eyes. His anguish wrung 
my heart ; the sword — I let it fall ! The 
wound by Morold made I healed, that 
whole and strong he might to home 
return, — with that Look no more to 
haunt me." " O wonder ! " cries Brangane, 
" where were my eyes ? That guest whom 
once I helped to nurse — ? " 

The stormy motive of Isolde's Wrath 
is heard, as she resumes the story : " He 
who, as Tantris, I let go unknown, as 
Tristan boldly back he came ; on a gallant 
ship with lofty deck, Ireland's heiress he 
comes to woo for Cornwall's wearied King, 
for Marke, his uncle. Who would have 
dared while Morold lived to offer us such 
insult ? ... How boldly Tristan pro- 
claimed what I had held concealed. Her 


silence that gave him life, the silence that 
fended foes' revenge; what silent shelter 
he owed to her, with her — he betrayed 
it. . . . Curse thee, traitor! Curse thine 
head ! Vengeance ! Death ! Death for 
us both ! " 

The Wounded Tristan theme gives 
place to a coaxing melody derived from 
the motive of Isoldes Magic, as Brangane 
innocently tries to soothe her mistress by 
extolling the honour Tristan bestows upon 
her in procuring this royal alliance : — 



fr=^— r— : 

What a fan - cy ! 

But Isolde only turns her head away, and 
we hear a very loud and clearly defined 
motive which seems to have a kinship 
with the Morold motive (see post, p. 62), 
and also with the final bass notes of the 
Prelude (see ante, p. 42) : — 

Ob., Cl., Hor. 



'** =Jrj.J J • NEJEJ3 

Celli. Cb. 


&S- \f^r 


Isolde, who has been staring with 
gloomy intentness before her while Bran- 


gane sings the praise of King Marke, 
now murmurs to herself, in the tones of 
her Magic theme : " Unbeloved by the 
noblest man, ever to see him near me! 
How could I bear the anguish ? " Bran- 
gane, little dreaming her real thoughts, 
gently reminds her of the Potion which the 
thoughtful care of her mother had provided 
against the curse of a loveless marriage ; 
the descending seventh at the beginning 
of the Love-Potion motive, occurring over 
and over again, as she cautiously leads up 
to her theme : — 

vls - 1 1 , ! ^ * l 

ggg^ffi gfn 



Once more Isolde's Magic motive is 
heard as Brangane asks : " Know'st thou 
not thy Mothers Arts ? Think'st thou 
that she who so wisely considers all things 
would have sent me with thee to a foreign 
land without counsel ? " Still to the same 
motive Isolde darkly answers : " The 
Mothers counsel reminds me truly ; wel- 
come to me is her art ; " and the Death- 
Potion motive reveals to us her resolve, 
accompanying the words: " Vengeance 



for betrayal, — Rest for the anguished 
heart ! " As Brangane brings the casket 
at Isolde's bidding and begins to describe 
its contents we hear the Love harmonies, 
and, for the first time since it occurred in 
the Prelude, the motive of Longing for 
Death : — 


Vis., Violas. 

The Love- Potion motive now appears 
in its complete form while Brangane selects 
a phial saying: "The noblest draught I 
hold it here ! " This is immediately 
followed by the ominous bass tones of 
the Death-Potion, as Isolde seizes another 
with the words: " Thou err'st ! Upon it 
deep I carved a sign ! " Thus at last she 
reveals to the terror-stricken maid the 
death-resolve she had made before they 
left the shores of Erin. 

At this moment the cries of the seamen 
announce that the voyage nears its end, 
and Kurwenal enters to bid them prepare 
for landing. The reply of Isolde is 
prefaced by a loud fanfare on the trumpets, 


combined with a new form of the Death- 
Potion motive : — 

J& — S- 


9" "J 1-UI- 1 SUM 


^ Trumpets. . 






B., Celli, Cb. 

" To Tristan take my greeting and tell 
him what I say. I will not prepare myself 
to attend him to the shore, nor will I walk 
by his side before King Marke to stand, 
if hither he comes not first, in due form to 
crave my grace for an unforgiven wrong. 
My clemency offers him this." The 
Death motive accompanies her concluding 

Kurwenal departs with defiant mien, 
and Isolde commands Brangane to pre- 
pare the draught of peace — of Death. 
In vain the distraught handmaiden falls 
on her knees before her mistress ; Isolde 
answers her in her own words, accom- 
panied as before by the Magic motive : 
" Know'st thou not the Mother's Arts ? 
Think'st thou that she who so wisely 



considers all things would have sent me 
with thee to a foreign land without coun- 
sel ? For woe and wounds gave she 
balsam, for deadly poison antidote ; for 
deepest woe, for highest grief, gave she 
the draught of Death." 

The approach of Tristan, now an- 
nounced by Kurwenal, is heralded by a 
stately movement in the orchestra, con- 
sisting of his Hero motive with which is 
blended a new one, associated with Morold 
(see ante, p. 58) : — 

Hero motive. 

Morold motive. 

Ob.,Hor.,B. -== ff M f f if 

i"ha '1 h ^ 

Vis. Violas, Celli, Cb!! 



f =f 



As he enters Isolde's pavilion the Death- 
Potion motive is heard, and thus the music 
tells us, before a word in this intensely dra- 
matic scene is spoken, that he — the slayer 
of Morold — is to drink the draughtof Death. 
To Isolde's questions as to why he had 


kept away from her sight and disobeyed 
her commands he replies evasively, as 
before : " Custom teaches where I lived, 
that the bride-beseecher, who brings her 
home, must keep himself apart." "On 
what account ? " asks Isolde. But Tristan 
only replies : " Ask the Custom." 

The Morold motive is heard again, 
followed by the Death motive, as she tells 
him that a blood-debt lies between them 
for which atonement must be made. 
Tristan answers that truce was sworn " in 
open field " ; and Isolde's reply is full of 
subtle meaning : "It was not there I 
held Tantris hidden, not there that 
Tristan fell before me. There he stood 
glorious, bright and strong ; but what he 
swore I did not swear ; I had learned the 
lesson of silence. " Then she speaks of 
that Look which had caused her to spare 
his life, and pretends — for her present 
purpose — that she had silently sworn ven- 
geance for Morold. 1 His motive appears in 
complete form as she speaks of him as her 
betrothed, whose sword she had blessed. 

1 Like the much-vexed question of Hamlet's madness, 
there has been some speculation as to whether Isolde's 
wrath against Tristan is real or simulated. 


Another motive heard many times here 
is evidently derived from Tristan's Sorrow 
motive, and is associated with the fate 
planned for him by Isolde, the triplet 
being first sounded alone several times : — 

Vis., Violas. 


Pale and gloomy, he offers her the 
sword which once she let fall before his 
Look, that this time she may carry out her 
purpose. But this is not Isolde's plan : 
she has feigned the vengeance for Morold 
as an excuse for making Tristan drink 
the Death- Potion, which she now signs to 
Brangane to bring. 

The shouts of the crew reducing sail 
rouse Tristan from his dark brooding. 
To his question: " Where are we?" 
Isolde replies, with double meaning, 
" Near the goal ! 4 [Death motive] Am I 
to have atonement? What hast thou to 
tell me?" His reply is full of signifi- 
cance: "The Queen of Silence bids me 

1 "Near to shore" is H. and F. Corder's rendering of 
Hart am Ziel, which entirely fails to convey Isolde's 
point, and is not even literal. 


be silent : — I grasp what she concealed, I 
conceal what she grasps not." 

Again come the shouts of the crew from 
without, as Isolde takes the Death-Potion 
from Brangane and offers it to Tristan, 
saying with deep earnestness: "Thou 
hear'st the call ? We are at the goal : in 
a moment we shall stand before King 
Marke." Echoing the sailors' cry, 
"Loose the anchor," Tristan gladly 
accepts "the goodly drink of forgetful- 
ness," since life holds naught but pain 
and dishonour for him. But ere he can 
wholly drain the cup Isolde wrests it from 
him, as the Look motive is twice loudly 
sounded, crying " Betrayer, I drink to 
thee," in the tones of his Sorrow motive. 1 



h-p-r^ , nra>..ihw 

Ich trink* sie dir ! 

And now, believing themselves to be on 
the threshold of death, they no longer 

1 Kufferath, who makes an exhaustive analysis of this 
scene in his admirable book, remarks that " It is sufficient 
to read Wagner's poem carefully to understand what a 
subtle and intricate psychological problem this scene 
presents to us. . . . It must be repeated that, in Wagner's 
intention, the magic power of the philtre does not play a 
physical, but a purely psychological role? 



conceal their true feelings. It is one 
of Wagner's wonderful moments where 
speech is silent and the most delicate 
and consummate acting is required to do 
justice to the eloquence of the music (see 
post, p. 142). The motives of Tristan's 
Sorrow and Isolde's Magic are now blended 
as in the beginning of the Prelude, as they 
fall into each other's arms oblivious of the 
arrival of the ship. 

In the first transports of their avowal 
the curtains are parted, revealing a crowd 
of knights and sailors, and a castle-crowned 
height close at hand. " Do I live ?" asks 
Isolde, bewildered, as Brangane advances 
with the royal robe ; — " Ha ! which 
draught was that ? " " The Love-draught," 
confesses the unhappy handmaiden. Un- 
able to execute Isolde's terrible behest she 
had changed the Potion, and unconsciously 
thwarted her design for saving Tristan 
from his fatal delusion. The glare of the 
world of Day has broken in upon them 
once more, and amid the blare of trumpets 
and the bustle of the landing we hear 
Isolde's Magic motive as she is led away, 
half-fainting, to meet the King. 




" (Religion) . . . lives, but only there, where it has its 
primordial source and sole true dwelling-place ; within 
the deepest, holiest centre (Innern) of the Individual ; 
there, whither never yet has reached either conflict of 
Rationalists and Supranaturalists, or of Clergy and State. 
For this is the essence of true Religion : that, shunning 
the cheating show of the Day-tide world, it shines in the 
Night of the deepest centre of man's soul, with a light 
quite other than the World-sun's light, and visible 
nowhence save from out that depth alone." — Prose 
Works ^ vol. iv., " On State and Religion." 




Backward I turn 

To Thee, oh ! Sacred, Unspeakable Night ! 

Far away the World 

Lies buried as if in some deep grave. 

Praise to the World-Queen, 

To the High Herald of the Sacred World, 

The Cherisher 

Of Holy Love 

Thou comest Beloved ! 

Night is here. 

Hymn to Night— Nov mas. 

NO definite lapse of time is indicated 
between the First and Second 
Acts ; and it is especially with regard to 
this portion of the story that Wagners 
treatment differs so notably from other 
Western versions. The numerous clan- 
destine adventures which only detract 
from the original meaning of the Legend 
are here concentrated in one great meet- 



ing. Of the material aspect of love we 
find practically nothing, but we are lifted 
almost at once into a suprasensual at- 
mosphere — the highest region of thought 
and emotion. 

It is clearly to be inferred from sub- 
sequent events that the royal nuptials 
have not yet been celebrated, but that 
Isolde is resting after the fatigues of 
the voyage. As it is continually stated 
by careless writers that Tristan is in love 
with "his uncle's wife," it is as well to 
make this point clear, as an example of 
Wagner's delicate handling of a Legend 
originally pure, but which has suffered 
greatly at the hands of later writers 
(see post, p. 92). 

Since the drinking of the Love-Potion, 
Tristan and Isolde have been apart ; but 
she has never relaxed her resolve to win 
him from the delusive Day, and "take 
him hence to the Night" of the inner life. 
The scene is in the garden of the castle, 
outside Isolde's apartments. The royal 
party are absent on a night hunt, and 
Isolde has taken this opportunity of 
arranging a meeting with Tristan. 

The musical Prelude conveys a perfect 



expression of life in all its exuberance, 
veiled by the shadows of dusk and by the 
peace of a summer evening. Added to 
this is the effect of the huntsmen's horns 
in the distance, to which attention is called 
in the dramatic situation. The first 
theme, which breaks like a shrill and 
menacing cry on the shimmering silence 
of descending night, is the motive of 
that terrible Day, from the torment and 
illusion of which the soul is yearning to 

Day motive. 1 

fl, Ob., ^l__d-_^- — m^-&- 
ci., Hon, aE^SMM^g — EEEE 
B.,Bci., fibzzgz=dn p— T 

Vls. *> — : — : I ^^ 

ff& S 




Then a motive is heard in the bass, 
expressing Isolde's expectancy : — 


Bel. I 

I I 



A descending progression in the treble 
is presently combined with it, which is 

1 A variant of Tristan's Worldly-Fame motive in the 
First Act (see ante^ p. 56). 



afterwards associated with the Torch 
used by Isolde as a signal to Tristan. 

Torch motive. 



■x && 4^& 

Then the motive of Isolde's Magic 
leads up to a remarkable new motive, 
which will be found later on to represent 
the idea of Nirvana, 1 or complete and 
final liberation from the ties of earthly 
existence : — 




NirvAna motive. 

CI., ist Vis. 

Thus we see from this short musical 
passage, that it is by the Magic of Isolde 
that Tristan will be led to a realisation of 
that exalted state. 

1 We have already seen from the Wesendonk letters 
that Wagner had the Buddhist idea of Nirvana par- 
ticularly in mind when writing this Drama (see ante, 
p. 33) ; hence our use of the term to describe this 
motive, by other commentators simply labelled " Bliss 
motive," which may mean anything. 


While Isolde is waiting for Tristan, 
Brangane warns her of the danger which 
menaces them. Melot, a fellow-knight of 
Tristan's, is secretly spying upon them, 
and has planned this night hunt, whose 
faint horn-echoes can still be heard, in 
order to entrap them unawares. But 
Isolde, with wider vision, knows that this 
seeming enemy will prove a friend, by 
hastening that final release from the 
torturing Day on which her resolve is 

To Brangane, who bewails her foolish 
deed in changing the Potions, Isolde 
speaks of a greater power behind these 
works of friend and foe, which moulds 
them all, in the end, for good: "Thy 
work? O foolish maid! Frau Minne 
knew'st thou not? Nor all her won- 
drous might ? " 1 The Magic motive 
accompanies these last words, and 
then creates a beautiful effect in com- 
bination with a figure in the treble which 
seems to be specially associated with 

1 It is misleading to translate " Frau Minne " as 
" Love's goddess," and Mr. Alfred Forman wisely retains 
the German. In quoting Wagner's reference to this 
motive (see ante, p. 34) we have already explained 
what " Frau Minne " represents. 



Frau Minne, as Isolde continues : " The 
Queen with heart of matchless height 





The Queen with heart of 










Violas, Cb 





less height. 


i j. 



> U^U4U- 

who brings by will the worlds to light ? 
Life and Death [Death motive] are sub- 
ject to her, which she weaves from joy and 
grief, changing hate to love. The work of 
Death [Death motive] I daringly took in 
hand [Death-Potion motive] ; Frau Minne 
wrested it from my grasp. The death- 


devoted she took in pledge, doing the work 
in her own way." In this Power Isolde 
declares her faith, and her resolve to obey 
its behests * : — 

Faith in Frau Minne. 





Vis., Fl., Ob., Eng.H. 

At her door flares a Torch — used by 
Wagner as the symbol of Day — the ex- 
tinguishing of which is to be the signal 
for Tristan's approach. Regardless of 
Brangane's entreaties, Isolde, with the 
words, " Frau Minne wills that it be 
Night," moves quickly towards the Torch, 
while the Nirvana motive is loudly 
sounded in the orchestra. Seizing it with 
an imposing gesture, and telling Brangane 
to go to her watch-tower, she casts it to 
earth, saying : " The Light, though it were 
my life's own flame, laughing I quench 
without fear." 2 

1 We are here reminded of the Minne-Dienst of the old 
Minnesingers, which was a vow of service to Frau Minne. 

2 As Wagner treated this drama as " a Supplementary 
Act " of the Nibelungen, it may be pointed out that he uses 
this word "laughter' 5 in the same special sense at the end 
of Siegfried, where Briinnhilde's and Siegfried's closing 
words are : " Lighting Love and Laughing Death." 


As she casts the Torch to the ground 
the Death motive blares out on the 
trumpets with magnificent effect, combined 
with the Torch motive. 1 

The significance of the Death mo- 
tive, so strongly accentuated here, is 
made clearer by the fact that Wagner 
once said to a friend when playing 
Tristan to him: "The ancients repre- 
sented Eros as the genius of death, 
with a reversed torch in his hand." As 
we have explained in dealing with 
the Lohengrin drama : — " Eros, who 
corresponds to the mysterious Grail 
Knight" — and here of course to Frau 
Minne — "was the highest aspect of 
Love, so divine and impersonal as but 
faintly to be comprehended by finite 
minds." 2 

The motive of Isolde's Expectancy is 
heard as she looks anxiously towards an 
avenue of trees : then, as her impatience 
increases, and she begins to wave her veil, 

1 Despite its importance at this point, the Death motive 
is omitted from Kleinmichel's pianoforte score, though it 
is included in Von Billow's. 

2 See " Parsifal, Lohengrin, and The Legend of the 
Holy Grail," Note, p. 43. 


the motive of Summons appears, growing 
more and more urgent. 1 

The Summons 

* p \ 

jj zgsg jzg: 

Fl., Ob., CI., Hor. 

Tristan quickly answers the signal, 
and in almost the first words of greeting 
we find the assurance — if indeed it be 
needed — that this is their first meeting 
since they were parted on the ship. " At 
last! At last! — Is it I ? Is it thou? Is 
it no trick ? Is it no dream ? " But 
their language soon begins to assume a 
character which justifies us in regarding 
this drama as a Mystery- Play, in the 
highest sense of the term. As Kufferath 
truly says: " It is quite extraordinary 
that this true and logical development of 
love, to the point where it becomes 
etherealised and elevated above material 
life, has not been recognised — that even 

1 The waving of the veil in time to the Summons 
motive is highly effective. It was first introduced by 
Rosa Sucher, who was trained in the part by Wagner 


only a few critics have hardly, and that 
with difficulty, caught a glimpse of it. . . . 
But — and it is from this, I think, that all 
the mistakes arise — this scene is written, 
from beginning to end, in a most subtle 
and metaphorical language. Everything 
in it is symbolical, the images melt one 
into the other and can be used indifferently. 
The words, detached from their literal 
sense, become universal and infinite in 
their significance ; and the dialogue which, 
primarily, was built entirely upon the 
emotions evoked by the situation, assumes 
an abstract and metaphysical aspect. . . . 
There is another literary element which 
has entered very deeply into the poem of 
Tristan, and is more particularly felt in the 
love scene : it is the language of the subtle 
symbols and imagery of Persian poetry, 
notably of the poet Hafiz " (see ante, p. 5, 
2Sidipost, p. 123). 

It would be necessary to quote almost 
the whole of this mystical dialogue to do it 
anything like complete justice. For, like 
all great poetry of this nature, it is extra- 
ordinarily concentrated and every word is 
of importance. We can only recommend 
a most careful study of the original, as the 


space at our command will not permit of 
our doing more than indicating the lines 
on which that study should be conducted. 

As we have already pointed out, the 
main feature of the symbolical language 
in this Act is the contrast between Day 
as the world of Illusion, and Night as 
the realm of Truth, or Knowledge. This 
symbolism is comparatively unfamiliar in 
the Occident ; but, strangely enough, since 
Wagner's death, scholars have discovered 
that the idea is an ancient Celtic one ; thus 
affording a striking confirmation of the 
accuracy of his intuition in dealing with 
a story associated so closely with Celtic 

Isolde tells Tristan that in extinguish- 
ing the torch she " bade the Day defiance," 
and while the Day motive (see ante, 
p. 71) begins to sound in the orchestra 
he replies: "The Day! the Day! the 
spiteful Day, I hate and curse our bitterest 
foe ! as thou the Torch, would I could 
quench the insolent glare of the Day." 
" Was it not the Day that lied in him ? " 
she asks, when he came to Erin to woo 
her for Marke, "to doom the true one to 
death ? " 


"'Twas the Day that wrested her from 
me," answers Tristan : "In the-^hining 
glare of Day, how were Isolde mine?" 
" Was she not thine who chose thee ? " she 
rejoins. "What lie told the impious Day 
that thou should'st betray the beloved 
foreordained for thee ? " 

Thus together they review the mistakes 
of the past ; and Tristan goes on to show 
Isolde the reason for his treacherous 
conduct towards her : The dazzling light 
of the sun of worldly fame had pierced the 
inner depths of his heart, and lit up, with 
its deceitful beams, the secret image of 
Isolde which he himself had never dared 
to look upon. Then a madness seized 
upon his brain and he loudly extolled to 
all what appeared to him so glorious and 
fit for fame. 

In following Isolde's explanations to 
Tristan we must not lose sight of the fact, 
indicated by her in the First Act, that her 
function here is that of the Heart (Intui- 
tion) revealing to the Head (Intellect) the 
reasons for the mistakes which it has made, 
and leading it onward to the perception of 
higher truths. Tristan in his deluded 
state appeared to her as a foe, whom she 


actually hated ; and in this we have an 
example of that element of " sex antag- 
onism " almost universally recognised as 
something which must ever exist as the 
necessary opposite to sex attraction. The 
escape from its sway is shown in this 
Act when Tristan and Isolde lose " the 
sense of separateness " — or duality — in 
the higher state of sexless unity (see post, 

P. 88). 

Thus we see the reason for Isolde's 
words : " From that which revealed thee 
as traitor, from light of Day I longed to 
flee, and take thee too into the Night, where 
my soul foresaw the end of this lie ; where 
deceit's dread delusion should melt away. 
There to drifik eternal love, devoted to 
union with thee in death." The Death 
motive accompanies Isolde's concluding 
words and is succeeded by her Magic 
motive, as Tristan speaks of the blessed 
promise of atonement which came to him 
in the guise of " sweet death" at her 
hands ; and how, with the sinking of his 
Day, " the gracious and queenly Night 
dawned " in his heart. The Night motive, 
to which Wagner makes an interesting 
reference in the Wesendonk correspond- 



(see post, p. 

84), is 

first heard 

at this 


: — 



m |„ ... > ■' 


1 — ~i — r 

1— d — J~-frp- 


W^ 1 — 

JL •_._i 

? * d 

■T— ^ — - L — 


Then the gra - cious and queen - ly Night 

Tristan lauds the Love-Potion which, 
as Isolde reminds him, brought the Day 
back again to him "who lay so nigh to 
death." Its enchantment, flowing to him 
through the gates of death, revealed — he 
declares — that wondrous realm of Night 
which had hitherto been to him but a 
dream. The motive of Isoldes faith in 
Frau Minne appears, and is blended with 
the Day motive, as she tells him how the 
Day revenged itself by forcing him to 
yield up that which had thus been revealed 
to him. Yet another motive, in a sudden 
change from quick to slow time, expresses 
her tragic fate "living there alone in the 
glare of barren pomp " : — 

Molto lentando. 




g- if 

ob., Hor. p <=r r=- * piu * 

The first climax of this scene is led up 
to in Tristan's declaration that although 



the " spiteful and envious Day" had 
power to keep them apart, it could no 
longer deceive them, because they had 
become dedicated to the Night. The 
motive of Isolde's Magic is succeeded by 
that of Death, as Tristan continues, in the 
following beautiful words: "Who gazes 
loving on the Night of Death, to whom 
she confides her mystery deep : the lies of 
Day, fame and honour, power and gain, 
so dazzlingly great, are dissolved like 
worthless dust in the sunbeams. Amid 
the idle dreams of Day for him remains 
one longing only, the longing hence to 
holy Night, where from always, only true, 
laughs [see ante, p. 75] to him the bliss 
of Love." The new form of the Death 
motive accompanies the yearning for 
Night :— 



followed by an extension of Isolde's 
Magic, leading upwards to the wondrous 
Nirvana motive, as Tristan sinks on his 
knees before Isolde, and leans his head 
upon her arm. Then, with one of the 
most beautiful effects in the whole drama, 
the Night motive is heard once more from 
the lips of Tristan, as he joins his voice 
with Isolde's in their first great duet — the 
Invocation to Night: " O sink upon me, 
Night of Love ! Let me forget that still I 
live, take me into thine embrace, from the 
world O set me free ! " A variant of the 
Night motive occurs at the words uttered 
by Isolde : " Deep in our hearts the sun 
is hid, the stars of joy light laughing up " 
(see ante, pp. 75, 83):— 


=^ — t*— p- 


In a letter to Frau Wesendonk Wagner 
thus refers to this passage : " But if now 
and then it is revealed in a flash to my 
inner life, how everything outside takes 
refuge there, then everything in the inner 
life becomes warmer and brighter. That 
is probably the Night of Tristan : * Deep 


in our hearts the sun is hid ' ..." etc. 
This throws a good deal of light upon 
what Wagner means in this drama by 
the idea of Night ; and also leaves no 
doubt as to the identity of the Night 

The great duet concludes with an ex- 
pression of their realisation of oneness 
with the Soul of the World: " My self- 
then, am I the world." 1 

This idea, that the universe and the 
individual are one in essence, has its 
origin in Eastern philosophy. It is, for 
instance, thus expressed in one of the 
Upanishads (the oldest mystical writings 
of India) — " This Soul that is the Self of 
all that is, this is the real, this is the Self; 
that thou art" — and is to be found, in 
one form or another, in most of the writings 
of mystics in all ages. It has been stated 
that Wagner got it from Schopenhauer ; 

1 Selbst — dann bin ich die Welt. It will scarcely be 
credited by those who have not seen it that in H. and F. 
Corder's translation this passage is rendered as " Thou'rt 
my world, thine am I." No wonder the inner meaning 
of this drama is seldom understood in this country, for 
this translation is the one published with the vocal score, 
and sold at Covent Garden when performances are given 
there. And this, too, is but one of many similar instances 
occurring in their translation. 


the real truth being that they held this 
and other similar ideas in common. For 
in quite an early essay (" Art and Revolu- 
tion," 1849), writing of the Greek when 
face to face with his inmost soul in the 
tragedy of Prometheus, Wagner describes 
him as " glorious godlike man, one with 
the Universal, the Universal summed up 
in him." 

As the lovers sink back on a bank of 
flowers, wholly absorbed by this vision 
of " the soul's supreme desire, eternal 
dreamless sleep," the voice of Brangane 
is heard from the watch-tower, warning 
them that " Night will soon depart." 
Then we hear a motive which began to 
make its appearance in the previous 
duet, and is a variation of the Long- 
ing for Death (see ante, p. 60). It is 
here associated with the desire to be 
united in death. 

Eternal Rest motive. 



Vis., Violas, Cb. 

Then follows the new form of the 


Death motive, already referred to, accom- 
panying Tristan's words : " Let me die ! 
— Let Day give way to Death ! " For he 
now realises that Death, which would 
destroy his body, could not touch his 
love : — " If I died for Love, could Love 
too die ? The ever - living cease with 

At this point a passage curiously similar 
to the motive of Kundry in Parsifal 
occurs ; and we here give it for the 
purpose of comparison * — 

gg^gS gig^ 

t iu _/! 



^ - 7r »=»g ^g=^^^Z=p^ ^=i| 

Strings, Drums. 

The association of ideas is fairly 
obvious ; for Kundry represents that 
which perpetuates the curse of earthly 
existence — the cycle of birth and death — 
from which Tristan and Isolde yearn to 
be freed. 

1 See " Parsifal, Lohengrin, and The Legend of the 
Holy Grail," p. 114. 



Finding that Tristan is still firm in 
his death-resolve, Isolde leads him yet 
a step further. He has felt his oneness 
with the World-Soul, and now he must 
understand the mystery of his own trans- 
formation, as something higher than his 
present self, through this mystical Love- 
Death. " But our love," she asks, " — is 
not its name Tristan — and — Isolde ? 
Did Tristan go alone to death that bond 
would be disturbed." So the second 
truth flashes on him : Beyond the gate 
of Death, in that wondrous state of 
Nirvana, they can no longer exist as 
separate beings, but must be resolved 
into that one being of which they are 
the opposing aspects. 

Thus the second climax is reached with 
the motive of the Death-song accompany- 
ing Tristan's words, in which Isolde 
presently joins : — 





So star - ben wir, 

un - ge - trennt, 









ei - nig, 


ne End' 


"So should we then together die, ever 
one for all eternity, without awaking, 
without repining, nameless 1 in the bonds 
of love, wholly to each other given, only 
to live for love." Again comes the hidden 
warning voice: " Already Night gives 
way to day " ; but all fear of Day's 
illusion is passed, and we hear the 
Nirvana motive, as Isolde with rising 
ecstasy, gives forth her fiat : " Ever let 
Night protect us." 

The third and final climax is reached 
as they blend their voices once more in 
the wonderful paean to that mysterious 
state which they so ardently desire to 
enter. Their first words : " O longed- 
for, everlasting Night" are sung to the 
later form of the Death motive, with 
the full power of the orchestra. Then, 
with the questions: " How to grasp it? 
How to leave it?" the motive of the 
Death - Song recurs, together with a 
figure embodying Wagners favourite 
"turn" and recalling the later Briinn- 

1 The same idea is thus expressed in the " Mundaka" 
Upanishad : * As rolling rivers in the ocean reach their 
setting, laying name and form aside ; so he who has 
reached illumination, rid of name and form, enters the 
divine Spirit, more Supreme than the supreme." 


hilde motive in Dusk of the Gods. It 
is followed by the motives of Tristan as 

Tristan. 1 


Hold Um - nach - ten. 

Brunnhilde (Dusk of the Gods). 



Hero and Isolde's Magic introduced so 
skilfully as scarcely to be recognised in 
the actual hearing — 

Hero motive. Isolde's Magic. 







Oh - ne Mei - den, oh - ne Schei - den. 

In turn they say to each other "Thou, 
Isolde — Tristan, I. No more Tristan, 
nor Isolde," and then the Nirvana motive 
re-enters and is worked up with extra- 
ordinary power to the supremest height 
of exaltation with the words : " Cease- 

1 This is one of the few occasions where Wagner per- 
mits himself to write more than one note to a syllable. 
They are rarely to be found, save in these impassioned 
climaxes. Similar instances occur in the great duet at 
the end of Siegfried. 


less, whole, and single soul " (see ante, 
p. 88). 1 

Suddenly a shriek is heard from 
Brangane, and Kurwenal rushes in with 
drawn sword, crying " Save thyself, 
Tristan." The motive of the hunting 
horns is sounded as Marke, Melot and the 
rest of the hunting party quickly follow 
him, and pause in consternation, while 
Tristan involuntarily shields Isolde from 
their gaze with his cloak. Morning 
dawns as the echoes of the great song of 
Night die away, and give place to the 
Day motive, while Tristan exclaims : 
" The barren Day — for the last time ! " 
Then the treacherous Melot triumphantly 

1 The importance of the most careful attention to 
dramatic detail in the rendering of so symbolic a drama 
as this is well exemplified in the following appreciation 
by Emil Heckel, written shortly after the Master's death : 
"With Tristan and Isolde in 1886, Frau Wagner showed 
the world her extraordinary capacity for independent 
pursuance of the Master's steps. The great scene in the 
second act stood out most markedly from anything pre- 
sented at the usual theatres : it was no longer taken as a 
1 love-duet,' and every receptive spectator must have had 
it borne in on him that, in the stricter meaning of the 
word, this scene involves a dramatic progress — Tristarts 
accomplishing of life-denial in the heart of Isolde" — 
" Letters of Richard Wagner to Emil Heckel : With a 
brief history of the Bayreuth Festivals." Translated and 
Indexed by Wm. Ashton Ellis, 


asks if he had not justly pledged his 
head upon Tristan's guilt, and saved his 
monarch from dishonour. The good and 
noble-hearted King, whose deep sorrow is 
expressed by a descending figure resem- 
bling Tristan's Sorrow motive, is over- 
whelmed with grief at the faithlessness of 

King Marke's Sorrow motive. 

-£2— m- 




his beloved friend: "O where shall truth 
be found, now Tristan is untrue ? " And 
as, in broken voice, he tells how — left 
widowed and childless — he loved Tristan 
so that never more he wished to wed, the 
unhappy Knight sinks his head in greater 
and greater grief. The King's words 
about the princess whom Tristan wooed 
for him are very significant, and prove 
clearly that Isolde is still to him an object 
of distant veneration, nor is there a word 
in his speech of rebuke to her (see post, 
p. 116): " Her, my desire ne'er dared 
approach ; before whom passion awestruck 
sank ; who, so noble, fair and holy, bathed 
my soul in hallowed calm. ..." 


But what is, perhaps, brought out most 
strongly is the pathos of his inability to 
fathom "the undiscovered, dark and dread 
mysterious cause " of it all. Upright and 
noble, this royal figure is yet but the ex- 
pression of the best that the outer world 
of Day can offer. The inner realm of the 
soul is closed to him. All this finds a con- 
crete expression in the Marke motive : — 

BC1 ' -^3-r al k ! g - ^ 



Like the soliloquies of Wotan in the 
Ring drama, and Gurnemanz in Parsifal, 
the King's long speech at this point is 
of a choric or reflective character, a fact 
which should not be overlooked by those 
who — not hearing or not understanding his 
words — find it tedious and out of place. 
Wagner was far too skilful and sincere a 
dramatist to make any such mistake, 
especially in a work designedly condensed. 
The very fact that his speech produces the 
effect of a prolonged douche of cold water 
after the tense excitement and exaltation 
of the previous scene should give the 
critical mind pause for thought. It is the 


necessary antithesis — the " chill phantom 
of Day," as Tristan calls it. 

Now for the first time does Tristan 
realise how great a wrong he did to his 
uncle in wooing Isolde for him. He 
realises, too, the gulf between them, made 
infinitely wider by all he has learnt from 
Isolde ; and we, for our part, understand 
that his reply is the only possible one : 
" O King in truth I cannot tell thee — and 
what thou ask'st, that can'st thou ne'er 
discover " ; but the music tells us, with 
the phrase combined of Tristan's Sorrow 
and Isolde's Magic, sounded three times, 
exactly as in the beginning of the Prelude 
to the drama (see ante, p. 35). 

Then comes the group of motives associ- 
ated with Death and Night in the previous 
scene, while Tristan asks Isolde whether 
she will follow him to "the dark abode of 
Night," that " wondrous realm " from 
which he " once awoke " when his mother, 
dying, gave him to the light. " When 
Tristan falsely wooed, Isolde followed him 
then," she answers. " Thou goest now to 
thine own, to show me thy heritage. Why 
should I shun the land that encircles all 
the world?" (see post, p. 102). One oboe 


sounds with intense pathos the Nirvana 
motive as Tristan bends down and kisses 
her softly on the brow. Melot, drawing 
his sword, starts forward in fury, while the 
following motive is heard : — 

Betrayal motive. 

-=!— P- 

Hor., B., Strings. 

Reproaching Melot for his treacherous 
friendship, Tristan declares that it was he 
who fostered his ambition and led the 
band that urged him to seek new fame 
and honour by bringing Isolde as bride 
to his King. Her Magic motive is heard 
as he continues : " Thy look, Isolde, blinded 
him too, from jealousy my friend betrays 
me to the King whom I betrayed/' Attack- 
ing Melot furiously, he lets fall his own 
guard, and sinks wounded into the arms 
of Kurwenal ; and as the curtain falls a 
variant of the Marke motive is played 
fortissimo by the orchestra, while the 
King holds back Melot from completing 
his deadly work. 

A word of explanation is necessary con- 


cerning Tristan's action at the close of 
this scene. Believing, from Isolde's reply, 
that she will follow him through the gates 
of Death, he has deliberately sought the 
only possible way of release from his 
misery and dishonour. At the beginning 
of the Act Isolde, as we have seen, had 
told Brangane that Frau Minne had taken 
into her own hands the work of Death 
which, in the First Act, she herself 
attempted to execute (see ante, p. 64). 
Tristan has now made a similar attempt, 
only to receive a more grievous wound 
than that inflicted by Morold ; and in the 
last Act it will be seen how Isolde has 
still to sojourn in the world of Day, while 
Tristan passes through a period of suffering 
and atonement. 



"In the Kingdom of Harmony, therefore, is no 
beginning and no end ; just as the objectless and self- 
devouring fervour of the soul, all ignorant of its source, 
is nothing but itself; nothing save longing, yearning, 
tossing, pining — and dying out ; that is, dying without 
having found its satisfaction in an 6 object ' ; thus dying 
without dying 1 and therefore ever returning back upon 
itself."— Prose Works, vol. i., "The Art-Work of the 

1 Cf. Act ill. Tristan's Sehnen ! Sehnen — im Sterben mich zu 
sehnen, vor Sehnsucht nicht zu sterben! [this is rendered by 
Mr. Jameson as: " Yearning, yearning, dying to yearn, to yearn 
and not to die ! " See post, p. 107]. 



"All that is by Nature twain 
Fears, or suffers by, the pain 
Of Separation : Love is only 

Perfect when itself transcends 
Itself and, one with that it loves, 
In undivided Being blends? 

" Salaman and Absal."— JAmi. 

THE scene of this Act is laid in the 
garden of Tristans ancestral castle 
in Kank)l (Brittany), 1 whither the faithful 
Kurwenal has brought his wounded master, 
beyond the reach of his enemy. Tristan 
is seen lying, unconscious, on a couch 
beneath a large tree, near the ramparts, 
with the grief-stricken Kurwenal watching 
anxiously by his side. 

In the opening theme of the prelude 

1 There is an island at the mouth of the tidal creek on 
which Douarnenez, in Brittany, is situated, which is 
known to this day as the tie de Tristan. 




we recognise a variant of Isoldes Magic 
motive : — 

Vis., Violas, Celli, Cb. 

It impresses us at once with the heavy- 
weight of woe and quenchless yearning 
which tortures and oppresses Tristan's 
spirit. After a mournful progression of 
thirds expressing a long and fruitless 
watching over the trackless ocean, there 
is another variant, this time of the Love- 
Potion motive in the prelude to the First 
Act (see ante, p. 37): — 

Hon, Celli. 



— v /Ts _ /T\ 



~F — '-W- 

U /'^i 

The melancholy tune of an unseen herds- 
man playing on his pipe is heard as the 
curtain rises : — 

Eng.H. on the stage. 



The whole impression is one of the 
most intense melancholy and pathos. 
Kurwenal, in utter despair at Tristan's 
condition, has at length sent to Cornwall 
for Isolde, as the only one who has the 
power to heal his wound. The ship is 
expected hourly, and the herdsman is 
watching for it from the battlements, but 
as yet in vain. Presently the plaintive 
strains of his pipe awaken Tristan, and he 
asks in a hollow voice where he is. The 
joy of Kurwenal at his master's awaking 
from his long trance is expressed by the 
following theme — 


Then comes the Kar^ol motive, as he tells 
Tristan how he had carried him down to 


— K_£_H ( 1 ^ 1 , ^^ — - 

' S- -•'- -m- * -*9* '•- 


the ship and brought him home to his own 
land and people, there to find succour from 


death and wounds. 1 " Think'st thou so ? n 
asks Tristan, " I know it otherwise. But 
what I know I cannot tell thee. Where I 
awoke I tarried not ; but where it was I 
cannot tell thee. I did not see the sun, 2 
nor saw I land nor people. But what I saw 
I cannot tell thee. I was — where I have 
ever been, where I for aye shall go — in the 
vast realm of the Night of all the worlds." 
Here we find expressed the idea upon 
which, in part, the principle of Re-birth 
rests : That the soul has existed for ever 
in the past and will endure eternally in the 
future ; for, as Wagner says : "the Future 
is not thinkable, except as stipulated by 
the Past ; " and in his wonderful essay on 
Beethoven, written about 1870, occurs a 
passage which has a direct bearing on this 
significant refrain of Tristan's ("But what 
I saw I cannot tell thee"). He says that 
it is only possible for the Will to become 

1 Referring to this hopeful speech of Kurwenal's, Wag- 
ner says in a letter to Frau Wesendonk : " It is the more 
intensely moving in that it makes no impression whatever 
on Tristan, but passes him like an empty sound. It is an 
immense tragedy — overpowering in the highest degree." 

2 Describing this same mysterious realm — " the land 
that encircles all the world " (see ante, p. 94) — the 
"Katha" Upanishad says: "The sun shines not there, 
nor moon nor stars." 


"pure knowledge" in so far "as it stays 
motionless in its deepest inner chamber : 
and here, beyond the bounds of time and 
spaced it knows itself the worlds both One 
and All (see ante, p. 85). What it here 
has seen, no tongue can impart^ as the 
dream of deepest sleep can only be con- 
veyed to the waking consciousness through 
translation into the language of a second, 
an allegoric dream which immediately pre- 
cedes our wakening, so for the direct 
vision of itself the Will creates a second 
organ of transmission, — an organ whose 
one side faces toward that inner vision, 
whilst the other thrusts into the reappear- 
ing outer world with the sole direct and 
sympathetic message, that of Tone " [Prose 
Works, vol. v., "Beethoven"). 

This temporary absence of Tristan from 
his body bears a close resemblance to the 
"descent into the Underworld" which the 
records — sacred and otherwise— of all ages 
tell us a would-be initiate into the ancient 
Mysteries had to undergo. 2 And when we 
remember that the Tristan legend in one 

1 The italics are ours (see also " Parsifal, Lohengrin, 
and The Legend of the Holy Grail," p. 125, et seq.). 

2 Freemasonry still preserves the form of the rite in 
one of its degrees. 


of its forms is a solar myth, Tristan repre- 
senting the Sun, the connection becomes 
more obvious ; for Wagner has throughout 
preserved the symbolic contrast between 
the Day as the world of Appearances and 
the Night as the realm of Realities (or the 
Mysteries). 1 In this journey to the Under- 
world Tristan has found that the " desire 
of Life" is not yet stilled. Isolde is "still 
in the realm of the Sun ! " and whilst this 
is so it is a sign that he cannot free 
himself from the bonds of the flesh. We 
hear the Death motive as he cries : "I 
heard Deaths gate close crashing behind 
me ; now wide it stands, by the Suns rays 
burst open. Once more I am forced to 
flee from the Night, to seek for her still, 
to see her, to find her — in whom alone 
Tristan must lose himself ever." He 
curses the Day which is the source of all 
his woe, and we hear the motive of the 
Torch, followed by that of Isolde's Magic, 

1 "Astronomically," says a well-known writer, "this 
1 descent into helP symbolised the Sun during the 
autumnal equinox, when, abandoning the higher 
sidereal regions . . . the Sun was imagined to undergo 
a teinporary death and to descend into the infernal 
regions . . . mystically, it typified the initiatory rites in 
the crypts of the temple called the Underworld ... all 
such final initiations took place during the night." 


as in the Prelude to Act 11. (see ante, p. 
72), while he calls with failing voice on 
Isolde to " quench the Light/' and allow 
the Night to come. 

Exhausted with the effort, he sinks back, 
while the ethereal strains of the Nirvana 
motive sound softly in the orchestra. Then, 
very faintly, he whispers : " The Light is 
still unquenched, not yet is it Night in 
the house : Isolde lives and wakes ; she 
called me from the Night." At these 
words Kurwenal confesses that he has 
sent to Cornwall for Isolde, and bids him 
be of good cheer : " Thy foolish man 
bethought himself that she who once 
closed Morolds wound, could heal with 
ease the hurt received from Melot's sword." 
Transported at the news, Tristan urges 
Kurwenal to go and watch for the ship, 
which he declares he can already see 
approaching the shore. 1 "She nears ! she 
nears, with fearless haste ! It waves, it 
waves, the flag on the mast ! " 

Writing to Liszt, in 1854, with refer- 
ence to his first conception of this drama, 

1 Cf. Lohengrin, Act III., where Elsa has a clairvoyant 
vision of the swan, coming to fetch her champion, just 
before she asks the forbidden question (see " Parsifal, 
Lohengrin, and The Legend of the Holy Grail," pp. 83, 84). 


Wagner says : " . . . with the ' black flag ' 
which floats at the end of it I shall cover 
myself to die." Nearly two years later he 
tells him that in order to understand his 
new Buddhist drama, Die Sieger (" The 
Victors") — which later was merged in 
Parsifal (see ante, p. n) — he must first 
assimilate Tristan, "especially the third 
Act, with the black flag and the white." 
According to the legend it had been 
arranged that a white flag should be flown 
if Isolde were on board, and a black one 
if the mission had been unsuccessful. 
Evidently Wagner at first intended to 
make a special feature of this signal. 

Kurwenal reports from the battlements 
that "no ship is yet in sight"; and as 
the mournful strain of the herdsman is 
resumed Tristan sinks yet deeper into a 
gloomy meditation which impresses us 
with the most profound sadness. It 
rouses in him the memory of his birth in 
words which recall the sorrow-laden lot 
of Siegfried's parents: "When he who 
begot me died, when dying she gave me 
birth, to them too the old old tune, with 
the same sad fear and longing, must have 
sounded its lament : That strain that asked 


me once, that seems to ask me still, what 
fate was cast for me when I was born ; 
what fate ? The old sad tune tells me 
again — to yearn ! to die ! to die ! to yearn ! 
No, ah no ! Worse fate is mine ; yearning, 
yearning, dying to yearn, to yearn and not 
to die ! " (see ante, p. 98). 

These latter lines have, perhaps more 
than any other part of the drama, been 
ascribed to Schopenhauer's influence ; but 
we have already shown (see ante, pp. 7, 85) * 
that Wagner had grasped intuitively the 
great German philosopher's main principles 
long before he became acquainted with his 
writings. It is by no means the least 
valuable part of the rich heritage left by 
Wagner to the world that he has laid bare 
so much of his inner life, and thus enabled 
us to see that the essential principles of his 
dramas are distilled from his own inner ex- 

In the course of Tristans reverie we 
come to the point where we learn the 
psychological significance of the Love- 
draught which he shared with Isolde and 
which is still torturing him with the curse 
of " desire that dies not": "Alas! it is 

1 See also the two previous volumes of this series. 


I myself that made it. 1 From fathers 
need, from mother's woe, from lover's 
longing ever and aye ; from laughing and 
weeping, from grief and joy, I distilled 
the potion's deadly poisons." The con- 
centrated power of this terrible Desire- 
curse here finds expression in the follow- 
ing theme, many times repeated : — 

FL, Ob., CI., Horns, B. 

Again Tristan falls back in a state 
of such exhaustion that the unhappy 
Kurwenal fears that he is dead. But 
his inner senses are on the alert for the 
arrival of the ship. We hear Isolde's 
Magic motive, followed by the beautiful 
theme of Eternal Rest, as in a faint voice 
he describes to Kurwenal his vision of her 

1 It has already been made clear that Wagner was 
particularly occupied with the Buddhistic philosophy 
while he was at work on this drama ; and in this special 
passage he expresses very clearly the teaching that our 
present experiences are the result of previous actions in 
this or former existences on earth (see Vol. I. of this 
series, on the Ring drama, pp. 137, 138, also Vol. II., 
Preface). In his description of Schnorr's wonderful 
rendering of the part (see Appendix, p. 144) he describes 
this point in the action as " the apex* of the pyramid to 
which the tragic tendence of this Tristan towers up." 



coming over the sea. The latter theme 
changes into its earlier form of Long- 
ing for Death and is combined with a 
new motive most poignantly expressing 
Tristan's craving for the healing balm of 
Isolde's presence. This is best seen where 
he sings its tones in the sad cry : " Ah, 
Isolde! Isolde!" while in the accom- 
paniment we hear the Death - Longing 
combined with his Sorrow motive. 






• Vis. 





cres. f 




Then in the bass appears the Night 
motive in an extended form, foreshadow- 
ing the approach of his release from life. 
With rising excitement he bids Kurwenal 
away to the battlements, and at the same 
moment the joyful piping of the herdsman 
announces that Tristan has indeed seen 
the approach of Isolde : — 





Eng. Horn on the stage 


In reference to this motive Wagner 
writes to Frau Wesendonk : "When I 
was composing the joyful melody of the 
shepherd at the coming of Isolde, I 
lit all at once on a melodious phrase 
still more joyous, in fact almost heroically 
so, and at the same time wholly popular 
in its character. I was near to throw- 
ing down everything when I saw that 
this melody did not belong to Tristan's 
shepherd but to the very Siegfried. 
Forthwith I looked up the closing 
verses of the scene between Siegfried 


1 1 1 

and Briinnhilde, and recognised that my 
melody was exactly suited to the words : 
c She is for ever, is for aye my wealth and 
world, my one and all ! ' [We give the 
melody from Siegfried for comparison] — 








Sie ist 

e - wig ist mir im - mer Erb' und 


Ei - gen, Ein' 

und All'! 

This will have an extremely jubilant 
effect. Thus I was at once immersed in 
Siegfried '; and shall I then not believe 
that I shall live and endure ? " We have 
already mentioned that Wagner had laid 
aside the scoring of his Siegfried poem in 
the middle of the Second Act in order to 
write Tristan. 

"The flag? the flag?" cries Tristan in 
wild excitement. "The flag of bliss at 
the masthead joyous and bright" (see 
ante, p. 106), answers Kurwenal from the 
battlements. Then, as Tristan anxiously 
inquires whether the steersman can be 
trusted to guide her safely into port and 


is not a treacherous ally of Melot, who 
may perchance betray him, the Betrayal 
motive, last heard at the end of the 
Second Act, reappears. His excitement 
rises to fever heat when Kurwenal re- 
luctantly goes to assist at the landing, 
and the play of motives in the orchestra 
becomes more and more eloquent (Night, 
Longing for Death, and Eternal Rest 
interwoven together), until at last he 
raises himself to his knees, crying in the 
tones of the Wounded-Tristan motive : 
"With bleeding wound Morold I once 
did slay ! " — Then, to the motive of 
Isolde the Healer: "With bleeding 
wound Isolde win I to to-day!" 1 

Tearing the bandage from his wound, 
he springs up from his couch and staggers 
forward to meet Isolde, whose voice is 
heard without, calling, "Tristan, beloved." 
At this moment the Torch motive is 
sounded, alone, with the full power of 
the orchestra, as Tristan in a frenzy of 
excitement, answers: "What! do I hear 

1 In these two sentences Wagner has revealed his 
knowledge of the earliest Solar form of the myth — Tristan 
as the Sun rising and setting in a crimson glow (the 
bleeding wound). See also ante, p. 104. 


the Light? The Torchlight, ha! The 
Torch is quenched ! " 

There can be but one explanation for 
this expression of Tristan's, "do I hear 
the Light ? " in view of the symbolism of 
Day and Night which we have seen to 
be dominant throughout the drama. 
Isoldes voice calling to him — the last 
thing he hears in the realm of deceptive 
Day which he is about to exchange for 
the Night of reality — he identifies with 
Light ; because, as he said to Kurwenal, 
Isolde is still in its realm, whence her 
presence has called him back from the 
gates of Death. He knows that, so soon 
as they are once more together, they will 
go into the Night, and he adds: "The 
Torch is quenched." The Day-gleam is 
dying out with Isolde's approaching steps, 
and with her comes the Night, the 
"Night" of Nirvana. 

Tristan sinks fainting into the arms of 
Isolde, as she rushes towards him ; while 
the Torch motive merges into the Death 
motive. 1 We hear the familiar blend of 

1 It will be remembered that this conjunction of motives 
occurred when Isolde extinguished the Torch, at the 
beginning of the Second Act (see ante, p. 76). 


the motives of Isolde's Magic and 
Tristan's Sorrow as she once more utters 
his name ; and then, for the last time, 
the Look motive is sounded (by the 
celli) with indescribable pathos, while 
the dying Tristan — his eyes fixed upon 
Isolde's — breathes out her name with his 

Night has at last come for Tristan ; but 
once more it is the old impatience, unable 
to endure to the end, that has hastened 
its advent. We hear the sad questioning 
motive of Isoldes Lament, ending with 
Tristan's Hero motive in the minor, as she 
cries : " Isolde comes, with Tristan true to 
die ! " 

Hero motive. 

u M± m=^ ^^^m^ 



Then follow the exquisite strains of the 
great Death-Song of the Second Act (see 
ante, p. 88) with the figure of ecstasy 
and a fragment of the Nirvana motive, 
as she beseeches him, in vain, not to 
die of the wound, but to let her heal 
it so that to both united life's light may 


be quenched, and blissful and strong they 
may share together the realm of Night. 
Here the Death-Potion motive is sounded 
twice, in the bass, and is then heard no 

As Isolde sinks senseless upon Tristan's 
body, the herdsman, and the steersman of 
the ship that brought her, announce to 
Kurwenal the arrival of a second vessel 
bearing Marke, Melot, Brangane and 
others. Believing them to be unfriendly, 
Kurwenal — mad with grief at Tristan's 
death, and burning to avenge it — barricades 
the great gates, and strikes down Melot 
as he breaks through with armed men. 
Then, driven back, wounded, by King 
Marke and his retinue, he staggers to 
Tristan's body and falls dead beside it, 
with a touching expression of fidelity : 
"Tristan, dear master, blame me not if I 
faithfully follow thee now." 

Gazing mournfully on the solemn scene, 
the King utters these words of sad 
reproach: " Dead, then, all ! All — dead! 
My hero, my Tristan, most loved of 
friends, to-day, too, must thou betray thy 
friend? To-day when he comes to 
prove his truth ? " For, as Brangane 


now relates, the King had sought from 
her the meaning of the riddle, and, learn- 
ing of the Love-draught, had hastened 
to repair the wrong which had been 
wrought through Tristans own delusion. 
To Isolde, now awakening from her 
swoon, he speaks of his noble purpose ; 
but she seems absorbed in a clair- 
voyant vision and unconscious of what is 
passing around her. With rapt and up- 
lifted gaze she begins softly to whisper 
in the melting strains of the Death-Song 
the revelation of her approaching union 
with Tristan in the "nameless" state 
which together they had glimpsed in the 
Second Act — 

Mild und leise A smile his lips 

wie er lachelt, has softly lighted ; 

wie das Auge his eyes are sweetly 

hold er offnet : on me opened; 

seht ihr, Freunde, friends, you see not ? 

sah't ihr's nicht ? Say you so ? 

Until now there had been a fear oppress- 
ing the heart that Tristan, in his impetuous 
ardour, had — like Elsa in Lohengrin — 
deferred the blissful consummation ; but, as 
her wondrous song proceeds that fear is 
dispelled by the certitude that in this 



transfigured woman is embodied that re- 
deeming power which shall bring peace 
and rest in the bosom of the Oversoul. 
Rising ever in power and grandeur, the 
Nirvana motive bursts forth at last like 
a shout of victory with the magnificent 
concluding words : — 

Heller schallend 

mich umwallend, 

sind es Wellen 

sanfter Liifte ? 

Sind es Wogen 

wonniger Diifte ? 

Wie sie schwellen, 

mich umrauschen, 

soil ich athmen, 

soil ich lauschen ? 

Soil ich schliirfen, 


suss in Diiften 

mich verhauchen ? 

In dem wogendem Schwall 

in dem tonenden Schall 

in des Welt-Athems 
wehendem All — 
ertrinken — 
versinken — 
unbewusst — 
hochste Lust ! 

Clearer growing, 

deeper flowing, 

is it waves 

of breezes blended ? 

Is it seas 

of scent unended ? 

How they stream 

and storm and darken ? 

Shall I breathe them ? 

Shall I hearken ? 

Shall I drink, 

or dive below, 

spend my breath 

beneath their flow ? — 

Where the ocean of bliss 

is unbounded and whole, 

where in sound upon sound 

the scent-billows roll, 

in the World's yet one 

all-swallowing Soul — 

to drown — 

go down — 

to nameless Night — 

last delight ! 1 

Then, as the great theme gradually 
dies away in ethereal harp sounds, 

1 English version by Alfred Forman, 



and the last breath of her erstwhile un- 
finished Magic motive is finally resolved, 






Isolde's Magic. 





i ^^agg 

ft *£■:£::£: ■&: 











Isolde sinks lifeless on Tristan's body 
and the Tragedy of the Soul is once 
more accomplished. But this is no " end- 
ing of untold sadness " ; rather is it one 
in which we see the Soul, purified and 
freed from the shackles of the body, rise 


triumphantly on the wings of Love and 
Knowledge into that realm of deathless 
consciousness clearly indicated by Wagner 
as the only possible goal of man's life- 




WE have already pointed out that 
Wagners version of the Tristan 
legend is more akin to Eastern Philosophy 
and imagery than to Western ; and now 
that his drama has been passed in review, 
certain points of similarity to many such 
legends in Eastern literature will be found 
to be the more striking. The space at 
our disposal only permits of our giving 
a brief summary of a few of the more 

To turn first of all to Persia. We find 
much in the writings of the Siifi's, 1 of whom 
the poet Hafiz was extolled by Wagner 
as " the greatest, the most sublime phil- 

1 A mystical sect in Persia, who claim the possession 
of the esoteric philosophy and doctrine of true Moham- 



osopher" (see ante, p. 78); Goethe also 
was familiar with his poems, and wrote 
an epigraph thereon which is equally 
applicable to Wagner's Tristan poem ; 
and which Mr. Charles Dowdeswell renders 
as follows : — 

" Let us call the Word the bride, 
And the bridegroom, Mind ; 
Who with Hafiz would abide, 
Must this wedding find." 

But the poet Jdmi (also a Sufi mystic, 
1414-1492), in his " Salaman and Absdl," 
throws perhaps the most illuminating light 
upon Wagner's method of using the story 
of a great love to show how the human soul 
can be raised, through that experience, to 
a perception and realisation of the highest 
truths. Edward Fitzgerald, in the preface 
to his English version of Jdmi's poem, 1 
describes it as " one of many Allegories 
under which the Persian mystic symbolised 
an esoteric doctrine which he dared not — 
and probably could not — more intelligibly 
reveal." He does, however, reveal much, 
for he adopts the unusual expedient of 

1 " RuMiydt of Omar Khayydm ; and the SaMmdn and 
Absal of J£mi ; rendered into English verse." London, 


embodying an interpretation in the poem 
itself. In the " Preliminary Invocation" 
a keynote is struck which might serve 
equally for Tristan : — 

" Oh Thou, whose Spirit through this universe 
In which Thou dost involve thyself diffused, 
Shall so perchance irradiate human clay 
That men, suddenly dazzled, lose themselves 
In ecstasy before a mortal shrine 
Whose Light is but a Shade of the Divine ; 

To thy Harim Dividuality 

No entrance finds — no word of This or That ; * 

In the Appendix to the poem Fitzgerald 
quotes another well-known Sufi parable in 
elucidation of the last two lines : — This 
Sufi identification with Deity (further 
illustrated in the Story of Saldman's first 
flight), is shadowed in a Parable of 
Jelaluddin, of which here is an outline: 
" One knocked at the Beloved's Door ; 
and a Voice asked from within, ' Who is 
there?' and he answered, * It is 1/ Then 
the Voice said, ' This House will not hold 
Me and Thee.' And the Door was not 
opened. Then went the Lover into the 
Desert, and fasted and prayed in Solitude. 
And after a Year he returned, and knocked 
again at the Door. And again the Voice 


asked, ' Who is there ? ' and he said, i It is 
Thyself' — and the Door was opened to 

Saldmdn is described in Jami's poem as 
representing "the Soul of Man " ; Absdl 
is " the Sense - adoring Body " ; while a 
second feminine figure, Zuhrah, is " that 
Divine Original, of which the Soul of 
Man darkly possesst, by that fierce 
Discipline at last he disengages from 
the Dust." Saldmdn is at first absorbed 
by a passion for Absdl, but a mysterious 
directing Intelligence, "the Sage," gradu- 
ally weans him from that passion by 
bringing before his gaze the image of 
Zuhrah, until at last it supplants that of 
Absdl, and the mortal love is blotted out 
by the celestial. 

In this respect we have, of course, a 
much closer resemblance to Wagners 
Tannhauser, where Venus and Elisabeth 
correspond to Absdl and Zuhrah ; whereas 
in the Tristan drama Isolde acts almost 
entirely the part of the latter. Jdmi takes 
particular care to prove, beyond possibility 
of doubt, that his poem is wholly symbolic 
and mystic by placing an Afterword, which 
he terms the " Meaning of the Story," at 


the end of the poem itself. The first few 
lines run as follows : — 

" Under the leaf of many a Fable lies 

The Truth for those who look for it ; of this 
If thou wouldst look behind and find the Fruit, 
(To which the Wiser hand hath found his way) 
Have thy desire — No tale of Me and Thee, — 
Though I and Thou be its Interpreters." 

And a footnote to the last line explains 
that "The Story is of Generals, though 
enacted by Particulars." It would, we 
think, hardly be possible to find a more 
perfect indication of the inner meaning of 
Wagner's poem than is contained in these 
six lines of Jdmi's interpretation of his own. 
Wagner scattered his hints and interpreta- 
tions through his Prose Works and private 
letters, and our main object in this series 
of handbooks is to disinter, collate, and 
apply them. 

It is in the Persian tale of " Valeh and 
Hadijeh," x however, that we find an almost 
exact parallel to the main idea of the Tris- 
tan poem. The Mirza tells the English 
Scribe that the book was written "by a 
poet called Fakrir, who lived in India two 

1 " The Story of Valeh and Hadijeh." Translated 
from the Persian by Mirza Mahomed and C. Spring Rice. 
London, 1903. 


centuries ago. It is the history of the love 
of a friend of his who called himself Valeh." 
The chief feature of the story is the prom- 
inence given to the blending of the two 
natures — or principles — into one, when 
they enter the inner life (see ante, p. 88). 
Thus in the chapter, " Hadijeh's Letter," 
occur the following passages : " Let me 
begin in the name of that King whose 
throne is the heart of man. . . . He is the 
secret counsellor of the heart ; He has His 
home in every eye . . . beauty is the reflec- 
tion of His face, love is a sign from His 
glory. His One can never be Two ; there 
is neither parting nor meeting." 

Further on, in the chapter, " How Valeh 
saw Hadijeh in a Vision," the story runs : 
"And when he awoke, behold he was 
alone ... he himself Valeh and Hadijeh. 
In sleep the one was two ; when he awoke 
it was one ; truth came and fancy vanished. 
For the heart of that poor wanderer be- 
came as a pattern and example of death ; 
for has not Ali, our Lord, said the words : 
1 Oh you who have understanding, behold 
the living, they are as men that sleep ; their 
waking will be in death, for death is the 
root and life, the branch and the leaf.' ... I 


am the nightingale and the rose and the 
garden ; I am myself the ringdove and the 
cypress ; one life have I, one heart ; no 
more two, but one ; I myself am Hadijeh, 
I myself am Valeh, I myself am myself." 
To this the English Scribe adds the note : 
" He met Hadijeh in his sleep, thus attain- 
ing to the stage of ' knowledge ' or inspira- 
tion. When he awoke the perfect union 
{vasal) succeeded the imperfect. The two 
were no more two, but one." 

A no less striking enunciation of the 
same idea is to be found in a somewhat 
unexpected quarter. In an editorial com- 
ment on the " New Sayings of Jesus and 
Fragment of a Lost Gospel from Oxy- 
rhynchus" 1 (pp. 41, 42) we find the 
following: "'When Salome asked when 
those things about which she questioned 
should be made known, the Lord said, 
When ye trample upon the garment of 
shame ; when the two become one, and 
the male with the female neither male nor 
female/" This passage is quoted from 
" the Gospel according to the Egyptians 
which is referred to several times by 

1 Published for the Egypt Exploration Fund, by Henry 
Frowde. London, 1904. 


Clement of Alexandria." The Editors com- 
pare it with a somewhat similar passage 
to be found in "the Second Epistle 
of Clement xn. 2 (an early Christian 
homily employing other Gospel materials 
besides the Canonical Gospels) : ' For 
the Lord himself being asked by someone 
when his Kingdom should come, said, 
When the two shall become one, and the 
outside as the inside, 1 and the male with 
the female neither male nor female/ 3 

The following beautiful little story is 
still told in Afghanistan : Durkhani has 
been forced to wed a stranger chief instead 
of the one she loves, Adam Khan. Her 
only comfort is in the solitude of her 
garden, where she has planted two lovely 
flowers side by side ; one represents Adam, 
the other Durkhani. But one day she 
sees that Adam's flower has suddenly 
faded, and at that moment her husband 
appears before her, a sword stained with 

1 There is an ancient doctrine or tradition in the East 
that Man was originally androgyne and became dual by 
the throwing outward of his female principle. This is 
symbolised in Genesis, where Adam becomes man and 
woman through Eve being made out of one of his ribs. 
The perfect state will be reached by the reunion of the 
two separated principles. 


blood in his hand, and tells her that it is 
the blood of her lover : — She falls dead 
beside the withered flower. Adam is not 
dead, but only wounded ; on hearing of 
her death he says but one word : ' Dur- 
khaniV and dies. They are laid in the 
earth far apart from each other ; but love 
was stronger than death ; they are no 
longer to be found where they were buried. 
Beneath the spot where the two flowers, 
Adam and Durkhani, once blossomed, 
there they lie together ; the plants have 
grown to large and beautiful trees ; they 
have wound their roots round the bodies 
of the lovers, and their branches inter- 
mingle, casting a shade upon the grave 
(cf. Darmesteter : Chants populaires des 
Afghans, p. 117). 1 

The Indian "Song of Songs " 2 resembles 
" Salaman and Absal " in its description of 
how the beautiful Radha gradually draws 
Krishna away from the allurements of the 
wood-nymphs, who typify the five senses. 
The Tenth Sarga ends with these lines, 

1 Cited by H. S. Chamberlain in his " Richard Wag- 
ner," chap. iii. p. 310. Translated from the German by 
G. Ainslie Hight. London, 1900. 

2 " Indian Poetry." By Sir Edwin Arnold. Triibner's 
Oriental Series. 


whose application to the closing passages 
of Tristan will be at once seen — 

" So they met and so they ended 
Pain and parting, being blended 
Life with life — made one for ever 
In high love" . . . 

In the Eleventh and last Sarga, "The 
union of Radha and Krishna/' we find 
the same idea of the two being predestined 
for one another, already noted in the First 
Act of Tristan (see ante, pp. 10, n, 48) — 

" Enter, thrice happy ! enter, thrice desired ! 
And let the gates of Hari shut thee in 
With the soul destined to thee from of old." 

Finally, a striking example occurs in 
the " Dream of Ravan," a mystical study 
of the Ramayana — the Iliad of India — 
which appeared anonymously in the Dublin 
University Magazine in 1853-18 54 — 

" Before all time — beyond — beside, 

Thou rememberest her, eternally, 
For she is thy spirit's primeval bride, 

The complement of thy unity, 
Joined or dissevered, averted or fond, 
'Twixt her and thee an eternal bond 
Exists, which, tho' ye were to seek, 
Ye cannot ever, ever break — 
A bond from whence there is no freeing, 

Since the typal spirit never 

From its antitype can sever, 
She is a portion of thy being 

To all eternity." 




IN our book on Parsifal and Lohengrin 
(Vol. II. of this series) we drew 
attention to certain evidences of Wagners 
strong sympathy with Buddhism, and 
reproduced the end of a letter signed 
"Your grateful Buddhist. ,, As further 
evidence we may now point to the con- 
stant references to Buddhism in the 
Wesendonk Correspondence, which has 
since been published. The following 
short extracts — in addition to those we 
have already quoted in this Interpreta- 
tion — will be sufficient for the present 
purpose : — 

"You know how I have involuntarily 
become a Buddhist." 

"Yes, my child, the illustrious Buddha 
was right in his exclusion of Art. Who 
can feel more distinctly than I, that it is 



this unfortunate Art that eternally thrusts 
me back on the torments and contradic- 
tions of life. If this wonderful gift, this 
strong predilection for the plastic phantasy- 
were not in me, I could become a saint, 
following with clear perception the prompt- 
ings of the heart. . . . Oh, if you silly 
scholars could understand the great loving 
Buddha, you would gaze in wonder at the 
depth of perception that showed him that 
the practice of Art was the surest hindrance 
to salvation." 

In these letters Wagner explains the 
meaning of the Buddhist teaching in- 
volved in the renunciation of all worldly 
possessions, and the taking of the yellow 
robe and the begging bowl. He also 
discusses the story of the Buddha's 
favourite disciple, Ananda, and his love 
for the Tschandala maiden Sawitri — which 
formed the basis of his dramatic sketch, 
Die Sieger — and he dwells upon the 
importance of the fact that the Buddha 
finally decided to admit woman to the 
" Path of Liberation." 

In our Preface we have spoken of the 
influence exerted by Frau Wesendonk 
in the creation of the Tristan drama. 


Nothing can command our admiration 
more than the silent, self-effacing part 
played by this noble woman therein, 
reminding us of Isolde's words in Act 1. 
concerning her secret aid to Tristan. 
During Wagners residence at the Cottage 
Asyl, on the Wesendonks' estate, he set 
five of her short poems to music, two of 
which he inscribed " Studies for Tristan 
und Isolde." * In " Dreams " ( Tr'dume) 
we recognise the germs of the Night scene 
in Act 11., while " In the Hothouse " (Im 
Treibhaus) contains the motives in the 
Prelude to Act in. and that of Isoldes 
Magic. The authorship of these poems 
was not revealed, but in a letter written 
from Vienna (Sept. 28, 1861) Wagner 
makes an interesting reference to them 
and their place in the inner history of the 
birth of the Tristan tragedy. He says 
that he had been unpacking his things, and 
unlocked a portfolio containing these and 
other treasures — 

" Heavens, how it affected me ! Two photo- 
graphs — the birth-places of Tristan : the green 
hill with Asyl, and the Venetian palace [the 

1 Five Poems. Translated by A. C. Bunten. The 
music by Richard Wagner. London : Schott & Co. 


Wesendonks' house]. And then the birth-leaves 
with the first sketches — wonderful embryos ; also 
the dedication verses x which I once sent to the 
Child with the finished pencil sketches. How 
I rejoiced over these verses ; they are so pure 
and true ! I found also the pencil leaf of the 
song out of which the Night scene arose. God 
knows, I liked this song better than the proud 
scene itself! Heavens, it is more beautiful than 
anything I have done: I am moved in my 
inmost soul when I hear it ! How were it 
possible to have such a memory ever present in 
one's heart without feeling more than blessed ? " 

This tragic episode may be closed by 
giving a portion of the touching and 
beautiful letter written by Wagner to his 
sister Klare, dated 20th August 1858, 
which is introduced in the Preface to the 
Wagner- Wesendonk Correspondence by 
the editor, Prof. Golther, with the follow- 
ing remarks : — 

In the spring and summer of the year 1858 
the neighbourly relations with the Wesendonks 
had several times been disturbed by Frau 
Minna's morbidly irritated mood. Yet on the 
31st of March the Beethoven concert took place 
in the hall of the villa Wesendonk in which 
Wagner made an artistic offering to the house 

1 See the Wagner and M. Wesendonk Correspondence, 
pp. 23, 287, German edition. 


of his venerated friends (Glasenapp 2, 2, 177). 
But the retreat on the green hill could no longer 
be maintained. A disagreement between Frau 
Minna and Frau Wesendonk had taken place 
and a reconciliation was no longer possible. 
Dignified and friendly relations with the 
neighbouring house could not be restored in 
Minna's presence. 

The Master himself gave the reason which 
finally induced him to give up the retreat in a 
letter to his sister Klare (of the 20th of August 
1858) "in order to give explanations where they 
were needed." May we be allowed to give an 
extract from this letter written in the fullest 
confidence, since, after all, publicity has been 
given to it elsewhere (Tdgliche Rundschau of 
Sept. 23, 1902): 

" What has for the last six years supported 
and consoled me and especially given me the 
strength to hold out at Minna's side, in spite of 
the enormous difference in our characters and 
dispositions, is the love of that young woman 
who approached me timidly, hesitatingly and 
shyly in the beginning and for a long time, but 
then more and more confidently. As there 
could be no possibility of a union between us 
two, our deep affection became of that sadly 
melancholic character which keeps back every- 
thing common and low and recognises its only 
source of joy in the well-being of the other. 
Since the time of our first acquaintance she has 
taken the most indefatigable and tenderest care 
of me and has in the most courageous manner 


obtained from her husband everything that 
could make my life easier. And this love 
that had never been mentioned by either of us, 
had at last to be openly expressed, when last 
year I composed Tristan and gave it to her. 
Then for the first time she was overcome and 
declared that now she would have to die. 
Imagine, dear sister, what this love meant to 
me after a life of struggling and suffering, 
of excitement and sacrifice! However, we 
recognised at once that a union between us two 
could never be thought of and so we resigned 
ourselves. Renouncing every selfish wish we 
suffered and endured, but — loved each other." 

He then goes on to explain the diffi- 
culties created by his wife's action — 

" gossip reached my ears and at last she so far 
lost her self-control that she took possession of 
one of my letters and — opened it. Had she 
been able to understand it, this letter could 
really have given her the consolation she desired, 
for our resignation was here also the subject of 
discussion. But she only fastened on the intimate 
expressions and lost the real meaning." 

The result was that Wagner decided to 
withdraw from a situation which threatened 
to compromise his friends and benefactors, 
and once more become a wanderer. 

In connection with the Look motive we 
have mentioned the importance attached 


by Wagner to the exercise of the " seeing " 
faculty : " More than all Philosophy, 
Ethnology and History, one hour of 
genuine sight once taught me," he writes, 
in a " Letter to H. Von Stein" (Prose 
Works, vol. vi. p. 326). He had been 
watching the coming and going of crowds 
of school children at the Paris Exhibition 
of 1867, and the sight had caused him 
keen distress: "This was remarked," he 
continues, "by a spiritual Sister who was 
conducting one of the troops of girls with 
utmost heed and scarcely dared to lift her 
eyes at the gate of entrance ; her glance 
met mine too fleetingly to possibly awake 
in her an understanding of my state ; yet 
I had just been practising my sight so 
keenly, that in that glance I read an 
inexpressibly beautiful solicitude as soul 
of all her life. This seized me all the 
more impressively, as in not one of the 
countless rows of led and leaders had I 
met its fellow, or anything alike. . . . All 
without soul except that one poor sister." 

More than one writer had spoken of 
Wagner's remarkable eyes, the following 
being taken from the Reminiscences of 
A. Lesimple : "Who once has looked 


Wagner in the eyes, can never forget that 
deep, unfathomable light that shone from 
them, — there was something miraculous in 
those eyes. He himself set great account 
on a person's look, and I well remember 
his telling me that he could read the whole 
man from his glance." 

We have already quoted Wagner's 
opinion, at the time he was at work on 
Tristan, that performers sufficiently gifted 
to undertake the principal parts were 
"very rarely born" : Preeminent among 
such artists was the young tenor, Ludwig 
Schnorr, of Carolsfeld, who was the first 
to play the part of Tristan. Unfortun- 
ately, like one or two others who were 
really helping Wagner s work, he caught 
a chill on a draughty stage and died at 
the early age of 29. In a beautiful 
appreciation of his work {Prose Works, 
vol. iv. p. 227 et seq.) Wagner makes 
some special references to his impersona- 
tion of Tristan, which serve to throw 
further light on the drama itself, and 
especially upon the way in which it was 
intended to be performed : — 

li As regards his doubts of the executability 
of the Third Act of ' Tristan/ Schnorr told me 



they had less arisen from any fear of over-taxing 
and exhausting the voice, than from his inability 
to understand one single passage ; but a passage 
which seemed to him the weightiest of all, namely 
the curse on Love (see ante, p. 108), and especially 
the musical expression of the words : ' from 
sweetness and suffering, laughter and sorrow' 
(' aus Lachen und Weinen, Wonnen und Wunden') 
and so on. I shewed him how I had meant it, 
and what manner of expression, at any rate 
prodigious, I wanted given to this phrase. He 
swiftly understood me, recognised his mistake 
in imagining too quick a tempo, and now per- 
ceived that the resulting 'rush' {Ueberhetzung) 
had been to blame for his failure to hit the right 
expression, and thus for his missing the meaning 
of the passage itself. I admitted that with this 
slower tempo I was certainly making a quite 
unwonted, perhaps a monstrous demand on the 
singer's strength ; but that he made utterly light 
of, and at once proved to me that precisely 
through this ritenuto he was able to render the 
passage to complete satisfaction. To me that 
one feature has remained as unforgettable as 
instructive: the utmost physical exertion lost 
all its fatiguingness, owing to the singer's having 
grasped the right expression for the words ; 
the spiritual understanding gave forthwith the 
strength to overcome the material difficulty. 
And this tender scruple had weighed for years 
on the young artist's conscience; his doubt of 
being able to reproduce one solitary passage 
had made him fear to match his talent against 


the whole task; to 'cut' that passage — the 
ready expedient of our most celebrated opera- 
heroes — naturally could never occur to him, for 
he perceived in it the apex of the pyramid to 
which the tragic tendence of this Tristan towers 
up. ... In truth even yet, when jotting down 
these recollections after three years' interval, it 
is impossible for me to adequately express 
myself about that achievement of Schnorr's as 
Tristan, which reached its summit in my drama's 
final Act; and impossible, perhaps, for reason 
that it quite eludes comparison. Entirely at a 
loss to furnish so much as an approximate idea 
thereof, I believe the only way to transfix that 
terribly fleeting miracle of musico-mimetic art 
will be to ask the genuine friends of my self 
and works, both now and in times to come, 
before all to take into their hands the score of 
this Third Act. They first would have to pay 
close heed to the orchestra, from the Act's 
commencement down to Tristan's death, and 
follow carefully the ceaseless play of musical 
motives, emerging, unfolding, uniting, severing, 
blending anew, waxing, waning, battling each 
with each, at last embracing and well-nigh 
engulphing one another. Then let them reflect 
that these motives have to express an emotional- 
life which ranges from the fiercest longing for 
bliss to the most resolute desire of death, and 
therefore required a harmonic development and 
an independent motion such as could never be 
planned with like variety (Kombinationsfiille) in 
any pure-symphonic piece, and thus, again, were 


to be realised only by means of instrumental 
combinations such as scarce a purely-instru- 
mental composer has been compelled as yet to 
press into his service to a like extent. Now 
let them observe that, regarded in the light of 
Opera, this whole enormous orchestra bears to 
the monologues of the singer — outstretched 
upon a couch, too — the mere relation of the 
accompaniment to a so-called solo : and they 
may judge for themselves the magnitude of 
Schnorr's achievement, when I call on every 
candid hearer of those Munich performances to 
testify that, from the first bar to the last, all 
attention, all interest was centred in the actor, 
the singer, that it stayed riveted to him, and 
never for a moment, for one single text-word, 
did he lose his hold upon his audience, but the 
orchestra was wholly effaced by the singer, or 
— to put it more correctly — seemed part and 
parcel of his utterance. Surely, to anyone who 
has carefully studied the score, I have said 
enough to signalise the incomparable artistic 
grandeur of my friend's achievement, when I 
add that already at the full rehearsal unbiassed 
hearers had credited this very Act with the 
most popular effect in all the work, and 
prophesied for it a general success." 

According to Emil Heckel, whose 
appreciation of Frau Wagners stage- 
management of Tristan, especially in the 
Second Act, we have already quoted (see 


ante, p. 9 1 ) : " Wagner had always cherished 
the intention of calling quite a number of 
conductors to Bayreuth, to teach them the 
great importance of the scenic picture and 
dramatic action, down to their tiniest de- 
tails. To the Kapellmeister he was never 
tired of saying that an insight into the 
drama gave the proper tempo of itself." 

Although most of the parallels to the 
Tristan drama are to be found in Oriental 
literature, the central idea is very clearly 
expressed by more than one of our own 
thinkers. Writing in 1642, the Christian 
mystic, Sir Thomas Browne (1 605-1 682), 
says in his Religio Medici \ x — " Omitting 
all other, there are three most mystical 
unions: 1. two natures in one person; 
2. three persons in one nature ; 3. one 
soul in two bodies ; for though indeed 
they be really divided, yet are they so 
united, as they seem but one, and make 
rather a duality than two distinct souls. 

" There are wonders in true affection, 
it is a body of EnigntcCs, mysteries, and 
riddles ; wherein two so become one, as 
they both become two." 

1 The Temple Classics. Ed. by Israel Gollancz, M.A. 
London, 1899. 


Shelley's Epipsychidion provides one of 
the closest parallels. Like Wagner, he 
was evidently struck by the symbol of the 
interwoven ivy and vine (see ante, p. 39, 
and our cover design), for he writes : 

"The ivy and the wild vine interknit 
The volumes of their many-twining stems." x 

Near the close occur the following 
remarkable lines : — 

"We shall become the same, we shall be one 
Spirit within two frames, oh wherefore two? 
One passion in twin hearts, which grows and grew 
Till, like two meteors of expanding flame, 
Those spheres instinct with it become the same, 
Touch, mingle, are transfigured ; ever still 
Burning, yet ever inconsumable ; 
In one another's substance finding food, 
Like flames too pure and light and unimbued 
To nourish their bright lives with baser prey, 
Which point to heaven and cannot pass away ; 
One hope within two wills, one will beneath 
Two overshadowing minds, one life, one death, 
One heaven, one hell, one immortality, 
And one annihilation ! " 

In his Witch of Atlas — a poem deeply 
imbued with the ancient spirit of symbol- 

1 In ancient Greek symbology Dionysus (or Bacchus, 
the Vine) crowned with Ivy represented the "Anointed" 
or perfect being. The later signification of Bacchus was 
a degenerate one, having nothing whatever to do with the 
pure original Dionysus, whose altar stood within the circle 
of the tragic chorus. 


ism — there are also certain points of 

That Wagner should have been familiar 
with Shelley's works is not surprising 
when one remembers the enormous scope 
of his studies. In 1851 he writes to his 
friend Uhlig : " I recommend to you and 
to K. my new friend, the English poet 
Shelley. There exists only one German 
translation of his works by Seybt, which 
you must get. He and his friend Byron 
together make up one complete and noble 

Wagner's familiarity with Shakespeare 
dates from his earliest school-days when, 
at the age of twelve, he learnt English in 
order to study his works ; and to the day 
of his death he was wont to read passages 
therefrom in the family circle. A com- 
parison of Romeo and Juliet with Tristan 
and Isolde, would form an interesting 
study, for which, however, we have no 
space, and must be content simply to point 
out that the story of a great love, which 
forms the entire content of the former, 
becomes in the latter the vehicle of an 
esoteric doctrine — after the manner of 
J ami (see ante, p. 127). 


Opinions have always been divided as 
to whether there is a mystical side to the 
story of Dante and Beatrice ; but Wagner, 
as might be expected, saw a very definite 
symbology in it. Writing to Liszt from 
London, on June 7, 1855, 1 concerning 
his friends intention to write a Dante 
Symphony, he says : 

"I have followed Dante with deepest sympathy 
through the ' Inferno ' and ' Purgatorio ' ; and 
when I emerged from the infernal slough, I 
washed myself, as does the poet, with the water 
of the Sea at the foot of the Mountain of 
Purgatory. I enjoyed the divine morning, the 
pure air. I rose step by step, deadened one 
passion after the other, battled with the wild 
instinct of life, till at last, arrived at the fire, 
I relinquished all desire of life and threw myself 
into the glow in order to sink my personality in 
the contemplation of Beatrice." 

This language of course brings to mind 
the scene in the Ring trilogy at the end 
of Siegfried, where the young hero passes 
through the fire and wakes Briinnhilde. 
There is also a remarkable parallel in the 

1 Wagner-Liszt Correspondence, vol. ii. pp. 92, 93. 
Wagner came over at the invitation of the Philharmonic 
Society to conduct a series of their concerts. 


close of the " Saldman and Absal" of 
Jami — which we have already cited (see 
ante, p. 124) — not only to these words of 
Wagner s but also to the closing scene of 
Dusk of the Gods — 

"... So now 
Of sere wood strewn about the plain of Death, 
A raft to bear them through the wave of Fire 
Into Annihilation ; he devis'd, 
Gather'd, and built ; and, firing with a Torch, 
Into the central flame ABSAL and He 
Sprung hand in hand exulting. But the SAGE 
In secret all had order'd ; and the Flame, 
Directed by his self-fulfilling WILL, 
Devouring Her to ashes, left untouch'd 
SALAmAn — all the baser metal burn'd, 
And to itself the authentic Gold returned." 

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